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Amazon Accused of Retaliating Against Employee Requesting Bereavement Leave

A former worker at a California Amazon warehouse has sued the company for allegedly retaliating against him after requesting protected bereavement leave. 

According to the lawsuit, in late January 2023, Scott Brock filed his second request for three days of bereavement leave after his father passed away. His mother had passed away just six days prior, and Brock had requested time off then as well. After his second request, Amazon’s human resources department requested evidence of his father’s passing. However, despite Brock’s provision of a joint obituary detailing both his parents’ deaths, the online retail giant denied his request and then terminated his employment. 

According to Brock’s allegations, Amazon violated his brand-new rights to protected bereavement leave. As of January 1st, 2023, California implemented Assembly Bill (AB) 1949, which amends the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to include bereavement as protected leave under state law. If Brock’s complaint is upheld during the case, Amazon could be liable for back pay, lost benefits, and reinstating Brock into his previous role. 

Whenever new legislation expands workers’ rights, it takes time for employers to adjust their behavior. However, this does not mean they are not liable for the violations that occur in the meantime.

If you request time off after losing a family member and your request is denied, or your employer retaliates against you, you may be able to hold them accountable for breaking the law. Here’s what you need to know about bereavement leave, the protections it offers, and what you can do if your employer does not respect your rights. 

What Is Bereavement Leave?

AB 1949 defines bereavement leave as a period away from work to grieve the loss of a loved one. Under the new law, workers at covered companies can take up to five days of unpaid time off to grieve after the death of a close family member. Covered relations include:

  • Spouse 
  • Domestic partner
  • Parent
  • Parent-in-law
  • Grandparent
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Grandchild

This type of time off is not offered or protected by any federal law. However, all employers covered by CFRA, which includes all state, federal, and public organizations and most private companies, must grant this leave to all qualified California employees. 

Your Rights and Protections During Bereavement Leave

Bereavement leave is protected, meaning employers may not retaliate against workers for requesting or taking it. Retaliation includes:

  • Termination
  • Demotion
  • Wage or salary reduction
  • Negative changes to your work schedule
  • Reducing the quality of your working conditions
  • Denial of training or promotions

When you return to work, you have the right to be reinstated to your previous position. Significant changes to any aspect of your role may be considered retaliation.

Days taken for bereavement do not count against the 12 weeks of leave granted for family and medical leave under CFRA. These days must be offered in addition to other forms of unpaid time, and there is no limit on the number of times per year you can be granted time to grieve. If someone has already reached the maximum amount of family and medical leave, they must still be granted up to five days of time away upon request so long as the deceased fits the relationship requirements in the bill. 

Who Is Eligible for Bereavement Leave in California?

Any employer covered by CFRA must provide bereavement time for eligible employees. An organization is covered by CFRA if it has at least five employees in California. Additionally, all public institutions and government agencies are covered regardless of the number of employees they have. 

You must also be eligible under CFRA to request protected time off to grieve. To qualify under California law, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and put in 1250 hours over the past year. 

Your employer may request documentation to prove that your request is valid. You can provide a death certificate, published obituary, or verification from the funeral home to verify that your loved one has died. Your employer can delay approval or deny your request entirely if you refuse to provide evidence. However, once documentation has been provided, covered employers must grant eligible workers the leave they request. 

What You Can Do If You’re Fired for Requesting Leave 

Hopefully, you never experience the tragedy that Scott Brock suffered when both his parents passed in the same week. Still, death is a constant. At some point in your career, you will likely benefit from the ability to request bereavement time to mourn a close relative. 

The last thing you want to deal with after losing a loved one is losing your job as well. If you face retaliation for requesting the leave you’re owed under California law, you can take legal action against your employer. Here’s how to start the process:

  • Collect copies of your communications with your employer. This includes emails, texts, and other communications involved in your request for time off and the denial or termination notice you received. 
  • Gather documents about your relationship with the deceased. Having a death certificate and obituary on hand demonstrates that you are, in fact, related to the deceased and have the appropriate justification for taking protected leave.
  • Consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Your lawyer will help you build your case, file a complaint with your employer and the court, and represent you in the courtroom or the negotiation table. 

The skilled team at the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, PC, is available to represent you in your protected leave claim. We have decades of experience representing California workers whose employers have violated their rights. We can help you stand up for your right to take bereavement leave or pursue compensation for the retaliation you suffered during the hardest part of your life. Learn more about how our California employment law firm can help you by scheduling your free consultation today.