Democrat Senator Wants Gov't to Force Employers to Give Parents 3-Months Leave After Death of Child

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 26, 2011 | 4:13 PM EDT

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) ( photo/Penny Starr)

( – Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wants to add the death of a son or daughter to the list of reasons for which the federal government can force companies to grant employees unpaid, job-protected leave for as long as three months.

“Allowing time off to mourn the death of a child should have happened a long time ago because it’s simply the right thing to do for any parent,” Tester said in a press release.

Tester's “Parental Bereavement Act of 2011,” first introduced on July 12, would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 to add the loss of a son or daughter as a cause to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to mourn.

Bereavement is not currently covered under the law. (You can read the full text of the bill here.)

FMLA currently allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave – with continued insurance coverage -- for the birth of a child; adoption; a serious medical condition of the employee or family member.

It also allows 26 weeks of leave for “any qualified exigency” of a family member who is “covered active duty” military, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tester said he became aware of the issue after hearing from constituents, including a mother who lost her son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and wanted time away from work to grieve without fear of losing her job.

“When the unthinkable happens to parents, the last thing they should be worrying about is whether they’ll lose their jobs as they deal with life-changing loss,” the Montana Democrat said in a statement. “We owe this improvement to all parents, and I’m proud to push it in the Senate.”

The Parental Bereavement Act does not specify any age requirement for a deceased son or daughter. It only states: “Section 102 (a)(1) of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is amended by adding at the end the following new subparagraph: ‘Because of the death of a son or daughter.’”

This month, the bill added three cosponsors -- liberal Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Tester said he is hopeful the bill will pass in the Democrat-led Senate this year. FMLA does not apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees.