Employee Time Off for Medical Reasons or Death in Family

One of the most important issues for employees is the time off that they are given in order to take care of medical issues or a death of a family member. This time off is considered particularly important because it often needed during a very sensitive period of a person’s life. While paid time off may not always be required to be granted by law, providing it can often be an effective way of fostering the goodwill of employees.

Family Medical Leave Act

Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain employers are required to give qualified employees the ability to take an unpaid leave of absence for specific family and medical purposes. During this unpaid leave of absence, group health insurance continues for the employee as if he or she had not taken a leave of absence. Upon completion of the leave, the employee must be returned to the same position or one that is nearly identical. A position that is nearly identical is one with:

  1. Identical pay and benefits;
  2. The same shift or work schedule;
  3. A similar location or geographic proximity; and
  4. The same or similar duties, responsibilities, and status.

The unpaid leave of absence may be for 12 workweeks in a 12-month period for the following purposes:

  1. Birth of a child and the care for a newborn within one year of birth;
  2. Care for an adopted child or a child under foster care within one year of the placement of the child with the employee;
  3. Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition;
  4. An employee’s own serious health condition which causes the inability to perform the essential functions of the job; and
  5. Any qualifying emergency arising out of the employee’s spouse, child, or parent being a covered military member on “covered active duty.”


Under Pennsylvania law, bereavement leave is not required to be given to employees. This type of leave allows an employee to mourn the loss of a family member or close friend, as well as to make arrangements following the death of such a person. As a result of the law not addressing this issue, any leave granted is a matter of agreement between the employer and employee. From an employer’s perspective, it is often beneficial to grant some form of bereavement leave, as it demonstrates understanding and compassion to employees. Further, it is often unrealistic to expect an employee to work after losing the life of someone very close to them, like a spouse or parent.

When granting bereavement leave, it is important to clearly define the parameters of the leave in a written policy, usually included in the Employee Handbook. This policy should define the amount of time allowed to be taken, whether that time is paid or unpaid, and what information is required to allow for verification of the deceased person’s death. As an alternative to specific bereavement leave, some employers allow the use of sick or vacation leave. However, regardless of how bereavement leave is handled, it is critical that all employees are treated the same for these purposes.

Help with your Business

Caring for a child, medical emergencies, and the death of family members are major life events that often require an employee to take time away from work. If you would like more information about these or other employment issues, speak with the experienced attorneys at the Philadelphia Small Business Law Center.

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