PARENTAL BEREAVEMENT LEAVE ACT (HR 983, The Farley-Kluger Initiative to Amend the FMLA)

Every loss of life is a tragedy, particularly to the loved ones of the deceased, but none is quite so unfathomable as the loss of a child. Woodlands has seen first-hand how important it is to give a bereaved parent time to figure out how to live with a new reality and find meaning in life in his/her own way without the distractions of everyday tasks.

Hebrew has a special word for a parent who has lost a child, "shakhul." Not so in English. Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider has written, "One who loses his parents is an orphan; bereaved spouses become widows and widowers. There are losses so profound that a special word is needed to express the new state of being. By designating a specific term, shakhul, for parents who have lost a child, the Torah is calling for added sensitivity towards the pain parents endure and is demonstrating awareness of the enduring emotional scar."

There are employers – businesses and not-for-profits (Woodlands among them) – that have provided bereaved parents with the time they need. Unfortunately, this is not the norm.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires that employers covered by the Act give certain employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss, as well as maintain the health benefits for these employees as though they were working. The main triggers for the leave are: (a) employee cannot work because of a serious medical condition; (b) employee must care for an immediate family member with a serious medical condition; (c) birth and/or subsequent care of the employee's child; (d) placement and/or subsequent care of an adopted or foster care child. Being a bereaved parent is NOT included.

A bill has been introduced in this session of Congress that would amend the FLMA to include bereaved parents. The legislation, HR 983, has both Democratic and Republican sponsors. It is also supported by such organizations as the Polly Klaas Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, the Elisabeth-Kubler Ross Foundation, Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), First Candle, The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation, Parents of Murdered Children (POMC), The MISS Foundation, Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc., The JED Foundation, Blue Star Families, Gold Star Mothers and Fathers, The Sarah Grace Foundation for Children with Cancer, The Children's Bereavement Center of Miami, National Students of AMF, American Academy of Grief Counseling, National Alliance for Grieving Children, Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance and The American Institute for Health Care Professionals, among others.

Woodlands Social Action Committee has decided to make this legislation a priority and work to ensure its passage. In furtherance of this, we ask that the leadership and members of our congregation join us in this effort.

Steps to take:

1. Publicize this bill to our congregation, along with the request that they individually use social media, personal contacts, and "letters to the editor" to spread word of the bill.

2. Encourage our congregants to sign the petition in favor of the bill.

3. Encourage our congregants to write personal letters in favor of the bill to leadership in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as to our own representatives (our own representatives in Congress to co-sponsor the bill and our own senators to introduce the bill in the Senate)

4. As a congregation, contact the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) and other Reform congregations with the request that they take this issue on as a part of their agenda

5. Invite congregants to suggest and implement other initiatives in furtherance of passage of this legislation.