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June 10, 2024 Politics & Policy

Here’s why one CT woman wants state lawmakers to adopt a bereavement leave mandate

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Kate Mollison is the founder of bereavement consulting firm On Tuesdays We Wear Black.
Click below to see a list of states that have bereavement leave mandates.
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Shortly after Kate Mollison’s husband Craig died unexpectedly three years ago, she and her still-grieving young children were given more devastating news: they’d have to leave their home because Kate’s name wasn’t on the deed.

“I was squatting in my own home, explaining that to my then 11-year-old and 19-month-old,” Mollison said.

After battles with the bank and mortgage lender, Kate and her two children were left searching for a new home just six months after Craig’s death.

Housing issues are just one of several hurdles people could face after a spouse, parent or loved one dies. Mollison’s difficult experience prompted her to launch a business — called On Tuesdays We Wear Black — that provides grief support resources and guidance for those dealing with a loss.

As a bereavement specialist, Mollison acts as a “point person” to help individuals with everything from funeral and estate planning to mental health and grief support. She also consults with businesses on their bereavement leave policies.

“There’s so much red tape and so much bureaucracy and so much to do, so many hoops to jump through,” following the death of a loved one, Mollison said. “That space that exists between grief and bereavement, the ‘grievement’ as I like to call it, is like a trial by fire, and you don’t have the physical capacity, the emotional capacity, and generally the support system to navigate it. You have to become a legal expert, a real estate expert, a moving expert in a very short amount of time.”

After almost two years in business, Mollison said companies need to do more to help workers who are coping with a loss. As a result, she’s starting a grassroots effort to get the state legislature to enact a formal bereavement leave policy.

Mollison said she will be pushing lawmakers next session to pass a law that mandates private-sector businesses to offer eight weeks of bereavement leave annually, with employers covering half of an employee’s compensation during that time.

Only about five states — California, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Washington — have bereavement leave mandates, according to Evermore, a bereavement advocacy group.

Mollison said now is the right time for legislation in Connecticut because the Democratic-controlled legislature has shown a propensity to support pro-labor bills in recent sessions.

Earlier this year, for example, the General Assembly passed a law expanding paid sick day rules to essentially all employers.

However, a bereavement leave proposal is likely to face push back from the business community, which often opposes new employer mandates.

Mollison said she understands her pursuit could be a multi-year effort.

“It’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.

Grief and bereavement

As Mollison put it, the bereavement process describes the legal and financial issues that must be addressed when someone dies. That can include things like dealing with probate court, estate planning, property management and navigating finances in trusts, IRAs or pensions.

Grief, on the other hand, is the physical, emotional and chemical-level response to loss that impacts everyone differently.

The U.S. has no federal worker bereavement leave policy, although the Biden administration has proposed the framework for such legislation in the past.

In Connecticut, even though there is no mandate, a typical employer offers about three days of bereavement leave, but “half the time the body (of a deceased loved one) isn’t even in the ground” by then, Mollison said. And that says nothing about the mental hurdles faced by those grieving a loss.

“Then you go back to work and you’re expected to perform at 100% capacity — and people look at you like you’re broken if you don’t,” Mollison said. “But the fact of the matter is, the neurochemicals in your brain literally have not started to develop until about five to seven weeks after the loss. So, we’re asking teachers, we’re asking construction workers, we’re asking financial planners and lawyers, all of these people who hold others’ lives in their hands to operate with the mental capacity comparable to a nine-year-old and do their job at 100%.”

Mollison said there’s an economic case to be made for a statewide bereavement leave policy, and employers can use more generous offerings as a recruitment tool.

In addition to working with individuals, Mollison also consults with employers that want to learn more about grief and bereavement and establish best practices at their workplaces.

She said her goal is to “destigmatize and demystify conversations around death and dying” to help people and employers learn what needs to be done after the passing of a loved one.

In August, her company will host a National Grief Awareness Professional Development Conference in Hartford that will feature international grief and bereavement experts.

Passing a law

Mollison said Connecticut has shown to be a very “progressive” state when it comes to employment-related law. She pointed to the state’s maternity leave expansion more than a decade ago as an example of Connecticut paving the way for others with “precedent-setting” legislation.

Chris Davis, a former GOP state lawmaker who is now the top lobbyist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), said it’s tough to say whether his organization would support a law mandating bereavement leave until a formal bill is drafted.

In general, however, the CBIA is against new mandates for businesses. The CBIA was one of the loudest critics this year of lawmaker’s efforts to expand paid sick leave.

“I’m not sure if mandating it onto employers is the direction the state would want to head in, especially given the fact that the recently expanded paid sick leave law would allow all employees essentially now to have access to leave that can be used for bereavement with no certain documentation necessary,” Davis said.

Davis said many employers in the state already offer some form of bereavement-related leave.

But Mollison wants companies to go further, and she thinks a state mandate would support that effort. Bereavement leave is “its own bucket,” separate from paid sick leave, she said, so specific legislation is warranted. She said pro-employee policies like bereavement leave could be a draw for the state.

“We want businesses to come to Connecticut, right? We want residents to stay in Connecticut — where’s the incentive for them to do that? It can be right here. We set the precedent with maternity leave. Twenty-eight other states model their maternity leave package after Connecticut. Wouldn’t it be incredible to do the same for grief and bereavement?” Mollison said.

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