update: is my employee lying about needing bereavement leave?

Remember the letter-writer wondering if her already untrustworthy employee was lying about leaving bereavement leave? Here’s the update.

I really want to thank you and the comment section on this one. I kind of took a beating in the comments, but I think that it made me realize that I was failing at being an advocate for my employee and thus failing at a vital component of my job (and as a compassionate human).

A couple of things that I want to mention that might add some insight:

1) I work for a company that has a lot of union employees. While the employees in my department are not union, we are held to most of the same standards as the union employees when it comes to things like PTO accrual and time off. The requirement of documentation wasn’t my rule, Director’s rule, or even a prickly HR person’s rule. It’s something that specified in the union contract, so all employees for the company are held to it. I agree with most of the comments that it is unnecessary, but I don’t have the authority to get anyone to budge on it.

2) The Friday that all of this started, I had to leave work suddenly due to having a miscarriage. I should have taken more time off afterwards than just the weekend; I was an emotional and hormonal wreck. I had a million reasons that in my mind seemed to make sense for going into work. I think the only reason that I don’t beat myself up for not taking time off right then is knowing that Jane would have had to deal with Director on her own and that it would have turned out much worse (more on that below).

3) Director is well known for being a bully and to for holding grudges. I’m usually pretty good at standing up to him, and we don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. He’s had more than one person storm out on him and quit. I feel pretty guilty that, at the time, I let my own judgement be swayed and panicked.

Anyway, after reading the comments, I picked up the banner of advocate and tried to see how I could help Jane in getting this resolved and get her paid. This is when things got really messed up as far as the company is concerned.

I went through payroll, our HR, and even corporate HR. Every time, I got the same answer: rules are rules. Then I started trying to find what other forms of documentation they would accept. They told me that they could accept the online link to vital records in lieu of a death certificate but that still didn’t prove that they were related. They asked for a copy of her mother’s marriage certificate. Jane got a copy of the marriage license, but because Jane has been married, divorced, and remarried, her name didn’t match her mother’s last name. Payroll then asked for Jane’s most recent marriage certificate and a copy of her birth certificate (I’m not kidding).
Jane could easily access her marriage certificate but had no idea where her birth certificate was as she had just moved. I tried escalating this further to the VP of Human Resources. No luck.

While Jane was trying to figure out how to get a new copy of her birth certificate, her sister discovered that the funeral home had never created the obituary because the family had forgotten to check a box on the forms. Within hours, we were holding an obituary. I delivered it personally to the head of Payroll, and they made sure the payment was on her check.

So, this has a somewhat happy ending but not without a lot of work and headache. Throughout the whole ordeal, I continued to apologize to Jane for the way that this was being handled and promise her that I was trying to escalate this to the highest level. I think that we reached a place of mutual understanding: that this was not OK and that the company is wrong in making someone jump through this many hoops at a time that they are grieving. So after much ado, it worked out, but I can honestly say that going forward I will advocate for my employees from the very beginning. I take absolute responsibility for it going the wrong direction at the start of this fiasco.

{ 227 comments… read them below }

  1. Camellia*

    This reminds me somewhat of getting my driver’s license for Florida. I had to provide my birth certificate, my first marriage license, my divorce papers, and my second marriage license. They said they had to be able to see my name changes documented as they occurred. O_0

    1. Zip Silver*

      Not to mention that all the counties with major cities require your to make an appointment far in advance (took my 6 weeks in Broward), and the state requires you to change an out of state license within 30 days.

      I ended up just keeping my out of state DL for like 5 months

      1. AllisonH*

        Don’t tell anyone but I have had my out of state license for over 3 years. No one ever checks and the only people who see it are the cashiers when I buy alcohol. Why should my license from one state not be valid in another?

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          If you get pulled over for something else (like a burned out headlight) and the cop sees you have an out-of-state ID, you may get a fix-it ticket and need to rush to get a new license. This happened to me and it was stressful to get the new license within the time window and then send in proof of it. It’s annoying to deal with the DMV, yes, but I’d recommend biting the bullet and getting it over with.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, it can be an infraction in most states–your out of state license is only honored as valid for a short period of time. Additionally, you can get screwed if you happen to get a court summons or similar legal document sent to you at the old address, because the court isn’t going to be impressed with “I never changed my address” as a defense for a failure to appear.

        2. KTM*

          Oh boy, I used to be like this and then my wallet got stolen :/ My original state wouldn’t send me a replacement license because I no longer was a resident of the state (they wouldn’t mail the license to the address in my new state). My current state wouldn’t allow me to get a new license without forfeiting my previous license (which was stolen). Trying to get two DMVs to communicate was an massive exercise in futility. I ended up taking the written and driving test to get a new license at the age of 28. I think I was older than the person giving me the test haha.

        3. spare me the DMV*

          I have an out of state license but I never drive + don’t own a car in my new state. I may be moving back to my old state in the near future, and my current license is valid for another couple of years. I still have access to the mail at my old address, so I’m not particularly concerned about missing any notices. I am also (weirdly) partial to the license design in my old state.

          My feeling is that it’s probably a waste of time and money for me to get a new license in my situation – but if anyone has any experiences/advice to the contrary, I (honestly!) would love to hear! (And tinfoil hat-ness aside, wouldn’t it be great if we could have a national centralized licensing system?)

        4. Butterflies and Bread*

          Coming late to the party, but Miramar PD rained hell down on me when our home was broken into and I had an out-of-state license. (We’d been in FL 6 weeks). Truly racist and unprofessional team; they grilled me endlessly about why I’d moved to FL, threatened to cite me for the failure to change, then randomly left mid-discussion. We learned who broke in later, but they never did jack because of the license issue. Many locals truly have an attitude against transplants, and they will use it against you.

      2. MsChanandlerBong*

        When we moved, I was supposed to get a new license within 30 days as well. I went to the DMV with my old driver’s license, a copy of my lease, my marriage certificate, and my Social Security card. I still couldn’t get the license because they wanted two things to prove that I lived at the address I put on my forms. So I went back a while later with all my ID and two utility bills. That didn’t work; you can only use one utility bill as proof of residence. The problem was that we pay our bills online and hadn’t gotten any mail here yet. So I ended up using my old license for almost a year (it’s valid until 2019).

        We had problems doing our vehicle registration, too. My old state uses an electronic titling system. My new state wanted a paper title. The DMV in my old state kept telling us to call the bank; the bank told us to call the DMV in our old state. It took five months to get the car registered, during which we had to go to the DMV once per month and get another temporary registration so our vehicle was legal to drive.

        1. Callie*

          In SC they will only accept some utility bills but not others. For example you can’t use an internet bill, even for cable internet! The reasoning is that you might be getting internet at a place other than the one on your bill. I get cable tv and internet from the same (local) provider. They almost wouldn’t accept this bill as proof of residence because “we can’t accept internet bill as proof of residence”. But you can accept the cable tv bill right? “Yes but because it has internet on it too we can’t accept it.” WT actual F. Finally I got a supervisor to accept it but it was a huge pain.

    2. Liane*

      Now I don’t feel so bad about getting my Arkansas license after we moved from Florida & I lost my FL license during the move. The Revenue Office* wanted our marriage certificate, as well as my birth certificate because my surname is legally hyphenated (Single-Married), so they needed to see Official Documentation of “where you got the Married part of your name.” Plus they had to make my DL over 3 or 4 times because the clerk kept getting the eye color wrong. Each time, I handed it back & said, “My eyes are blue, not X color.” I was right there and I don’t wear colored contacts. I think she went through every other natural color!

      *which issues/renews DLs here

    3. Chinook*

      Had that happen to me moving back from Quebec to Alberta due to Quebec not accepting a marriage certificate as proof of name change and Alberta not understanding why my Quebec driver’s licence was in my maiden name even though I had been married long before I moved there and originally had an Alberta driver’s licence in said married name (and at no point did I get divorced). It took some sweet talking with a small town registries person (who luckily knew my family) to convince them to ignore the name on the Quebec DL and instead use the one that had been listed in Alberta. Then rinse and repeat with my health care insurance.

    4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Had a similar experience in FL in the 1980s – had to go to three different DMVs because I only had a birth certificate and “I might be one o’ them thar ill-EEE-gal aliens…”

      With the discussion of marriage certificates – my company did an audit of the medical coverage and I had to produce my marriage cert – from the early 1970s – to prove that mrs. Anon-2 was actually my wife.

      Now, those folks with kids had to produce their birth certs. And those with adult children who were listed as full-time students had to prove that they were students (this is before the Obamacare “26 “provision kicked in).

      I know that several “faux-students” were dumped from the plan , and it was likely that several children who were not kids of employees – as well as some estranged spouses – were also dropped.

  2. Mustache Cat*

    I’m really, really impressed with update! (And significantly less impressed with this workplace). Well done, OP!

    1. SophieChotek*

      +1 Thank you for your reflection and standing up for your employee.
      And my condolences on your miscarriage also.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    OP – it sounds like did as well for your employee as could be expected given the batsh*t crazy documentation requirements. I hope your management gets a clue.

  4. MsCHX*

    This place sounds insane :(

    I would not be running around providing marriage licenses and divorce decrees and birth certificates…I don’t share the same last name with my parents/siblings (currently divorcing) or my children (1st marriage). And I would probably want to slaughter everyone in Payroll / HR / Management if in this position. Just…Ugh.

    Happy things worked out OP and sorry for your loss on the miscarriage. That’s a really tough ordeal.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      I was thinking this too. I’ve never shared a last name with my mother—I had my father’s last name, and she never changed hers. I cannot imagine trying to provide this kind of documentation. Also, what if you’re not listed in the obituary (e.g. you’re one of many grandchildren)?

      OP, it sounds like you really advocated for your employee, and I’m sure she appreciated it. I’m sorry about the miscarriage as well. It sounds like a rough time overall.

      1. alter_ego*

        Me either! There are 7 siblings (including me) in my family, and we have 5 last names between us, non of which are the results of the siblings themselves getting married. Trying to prove any of us are related via last name is a losing prospect.

        1. Julia*

          I’m just thinking that when I get married, all four of us siblings will have different surnames. Bizarre…

      2. Red Reader*

        While the OP’s workplace is bonkers, I’ve been through five legal name changes from birth certificate to today, and it would take me about ten seconds to put my hands on the folder containing the certified legal documentation of all five plus my birth certificate. The idea of not knowing where to find that stuff is just weird to me.

        (I don’t name-change just for funsies. Two marriages, two divorces and a legal first name change. I’m done now. :P )

          1. Red Reader*

            Yeah, I caught that, but *shrug* I dunno. When I move house (which I’ve done way too many times in the last ten years), my computers, my important paperwork box, and my jewelry go in the car with me, no matter who else is helping with the move, because those are the important things for me to know where they are and who’s handling them. So still really odd to me. But mileage varies and all that jazz. (Clearly being able to provide my provenance at a moment’s notice makes me the odd one out, from these comments :) But I also have notes on my computer with a detailed address history going back 15 years, job/supervisor history, etc. I work with medical records, and I think I just like documentation.)

            1. caryatis*

              I agree with you. Everyone should know where their birth certificate, marriage license, SS card are; it’s not that much to keep track of. Of course, the employer is still being unreasonable. All this hassle just to prevent the rare lying employee from getting one or three days off?

              1. Just Another Techie*

                I don’t have my birth certificate. My parents (controlling and abusive jerks) never gave it to me when I left home, and I’ve never needed it, and I live on the opposite side of the country now from the state where I was born. If I absolutely had to, I would need to get a notarized copy of my drivers license or passport then mail it and a payment to the state’s department of records and wait 8-10 weeks for the state of my birth to process my request and send me my birth certificate.

                My SS card got lost the last time I moved, and I need a birth certificate to get a replacement card, and see above about lacking a birth certificate in my possession. I have my SS number memorized and my passport suffices for proving my eligibility to work in the US, so *shrugs*

                I also don’t have a copy of my marriage certificate. I still live in the town where I was married, and it would be pretty easy to swing by city hall and request a copy if I ever needed it. And I never changed my name so, again, *shrugs*

                1. caryatis*

                  This worries me. You never know when you might need to prove this stuff, and it might be a huge inconvenience to have wait 8-10 weeks for a birth certificate. What if you get robbed and lose the passport and license? I’d get a copy of all this stuff now before it becomes urgent.

                2. Jenbug*

                  You should definitely get a copy of your birth certificate now before you *need* it and don’t have it.

                3. Cleopatra Jones*

                  You don’t even need to get your birth certificate from your parents. Just contact the vital statistics office in the county you were born. It only takes a few minutes to fill out the request forms, and show proof of identification.
                  When I had to get a new birth certificate, it took me all of 10 minutes in the Vital Statistics office.

                4. Jean*

                  Employers are allowed to ask to see the Social Security card to make sure that the name on the card matches the name on payroll. I would strongly suggest replacing it.

              2. Callie*

                I have my SHORT FORM birth certificate, because that is all I have ever needed. I also have my daughter’s SHORT FORM birth certificate. However in our recent move for my new job, I discovered a new state law that in order to add her to my insurance (state insurance, which I have previously had and had her on) I now had to have a LONG FORM birth certificate with a seal, which I never had for her. I didn’t need this LONG FORM certificate the last time I added her to my insurance and I didn’t need it in the other state we lived in. I had to go through an irritating process to get it.

                1. JessaB*

                  Oh I totally know that pain. Mr B was born on an Army base in Germany. The State Department has since changed the form of the paperwork. Trying to get a copy of his birth certificate is a total nightmare. It’s also half a dozen pages long.

                  But I agree with everyone above who answered the person who didn’t have some of the paperwork. I’d get that stuff now. And replace the Social Security card. BEFORE you need them cause when you do and you probably will, it’s gonna be a nightmare to do it fast.

                  We went around in circles with my friend’s wife who lost her SS Card and also her state ID. Well you practically need one to get the other. We went crazy trying to deal with replacing stuff. Seriously do it when you have the free time not when you’re in a rush.

                2. Marillenbaum*

                  My sympathies. I moved to Austria for a year after college, and gathering the appropriate paperwork for the residence permit application was such a pain. For instance: every US document I submitted needed an apostille to certify it for foreign governments. Fine, my mother still had my birth certificate. But the Commonwealth of Virginia does not apostille documents that have not been issued in the last six months. So, I had to order a new copy of my birth certificate, wait for that to arrive in Utah, and then send it back to Virginia to a different office for the apostille, wait for that to come back, and then add it to my application file…and that was just one document.

                3. Lisa*

                  Yeah I was born on a military base in Japan in a hospital that I don’t think exists anymore. I thought I had lost my birth certificate at one point and tried to track one down. I didn’t even have a photocopy of it. I’m not sure it’s even possible anymore to get a new one. Thank goodness I finally found it. I keep it in a fireproof safe now and think I may get a safe deposit box just for it lol :)

            2. Happy Lurker*

              Red you are not alone…I have all my important papers in the bank security box. Copies in a special folder. Including passports. My bank box is full and it has no fun stuff in it (no $ or jewelry like rich people in the movies). It’s not easy to access, but it’s not easy to lose either.

            3. Queen Anon*

              Some people just don’t keep track of that stuff. I don’t know why, but they don’t. We’ve had to order certified copies of my husband’s birth certificate twice in 18 years of marriage (the first time to get the marriage license) because he doesn’t like keeping paperwork of any kind. He’s also had to pay extra child support in the past, before we married, because he didn’t keep copies of the checks proving he’d paid it the first time. Too bad he didn’t just have it garnished from his paycheck. (I try to keep on top of these things for him, but I’m not his mom or his manager and ultimately it’s his responsibility.)

              1. Marcela*

                And in some cases, there is no original documents because that’s not how my country works. We do not have One birth certificate. Once our birth is registered, we just get “copies”, official documents are our certificates, but we can request infinite of them, never having to keep one for any reason. Nowadays you can even print them at home, and they have a barcode that can be used to verify them. Imagine giving something like that to the Spanish government, where every certificate include the volume and number of page where your birth or marriage (in our case) was registered. You could see their brains exploding, and of course they refused that unofficial looking document until we submitted a letter from our embassy saying that was 100% official in my country.

                1. Julia*

                  And some offices only accept recent copies for some reason, as if your birth certificate could have changed within the last few months!

                2. em*

                  @ Julia – there are a number of countries that have declared all copies of birth certificates issued prior to a certain date (Puerto Rico for example) or issued in an older, obsolete format to be no longer valid. I can see how it would be easier for authorities who deal with a lot of international birth certificates to just require a recent birth certificate rather than keep up with all the jurisdictions’ rulings. They shouldn’t inconvenience so many folks with actually valid brith certificates out of laziness but understandable why they’d want to to do it that way.

              2. Lemon Zinger*

                Good point. I’m extremely careful about my important documents, but when I met my SO, he didn’t even have his birth certificate– and he’s in his late 20s! He just never thought about why it might be important to have.

            4. JB (not in Houston)*

              There are a number of perfectly valid reasons for a person not to have their birth certificate.

              1. caryatis*

                Maybe in countries that don’t use them. For an American, I would say you should absolutely have one. If you didn’t get one as a child, which I agree might not be your fault, there are ways to get one as an adult. Sometime you’re bound to need it.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  For a number of reasons I won’t get into here, it’s not always easy for a person to get a copy of their birth certificate (and I don’t want to get political here, but I live in a state that implemented a voter ID law and yet also makes it difficult for some people to get a copy of their birth certificate). And people who may have had one at one time may, for various personal reasons (fire, flood, fleeing abusive relationship, evictions), no longer have one. Some people have mental health issues or other issues that make it difficult for them to keep up with paperwork.

                  I’m not saying that it’s not useful to have one. Of course it is. But it makes me uncomfortable to see people treating it like it’s odd or foolish not to have possession of it. It’s the same attitude that leads to not recognizing the hardships that many Americans face over things that others of us take for granted, and to shrugging off things like voter ID laws, which can be (and are often intended to be) disenfranchising.

                2. Sunshine Brite*

                  Don’t forget adoption, that’s why I don’t really have an official one. There’s some copy of one my mom showed me once that was good enough to get a passport, but it definitely looked questionable.

              2. Chinook*

                I agree with that. Heck, in Canada, there are entire generations of Quebecers who were never issued one because your Baptismal certificate was considered good enough for applying for a passport (because you can’t be baptized if you weren’t born, most births were home births, most Quebecers were Catholic (there must have been another process for the Jewish population?) and the Catholic Church was much better at keeping track of their paperwork than other agencies at that time)

                But, if you were issued one, you should probably know where it is since it is a basic identity document. Ditto for a passport, marriage/divorce certificates, official name change and other such documents that show or confirm a legal status change.

                1. AcademiaNut*

                  I had to order a new birth certificate when I got my first passport for just that reason – I *had* a Quebec birth certificate (two – the first one didn’t have my first name on it), but the passport office required anyone born in Quebec before a certain date to have it reissued if they wanted a new passport. And I’ve had to use it for subsequent passports until they changed the rules for renewing it from abroad.

                  For our marriage certificate, we have multiple copies in two languages, but to actually use it for anything important, I’d likely need to get a notarized version from the embassy-equivalent of the country we were married in, to prove it wasn’t fake.

            5. Chinook*

              Red Reader, you’re not alone on that lien of thinking. I have moved multiple times and not only do those vital identity documents move with me in the car (vs. moving truck), but I also have digital copies on my phone in case they got lost. And, like you, I have a spreadsheet with all addresses back to childhood (min. 20), but that is because I have had to fill in too many background checks to not know how valuable that information is to have at your fingertips. (Side note – I was pleasantly surprised that the one I had to fill in last week only required one other address. It has been a long time since that has ever happened, possibly university)

        1. Wanda888*

          I was born in another country, and I have a birth certificate, but it’s in a foreign language and therefore does not count as valid documentation. Luckily, it’s never been an issue for my identity because my parents got me a passport right away, and that trumps a birth certificate for ID. But I don’t have the same last name as my mom (it’s not customary in her culture to change names upon marriage), and I don’t have the same last name as my child because I didn’t change my name either. Neither name difference has been an issue so far, and I would hope it stays that way in the future.

          1. Little Mermaid*

            I have a birth certificate from a country that doesn’t exist anymore – would love to know, how they’d deal with that! :D

      3. Snarkus Aurelius*

        My son and I don’t have the same last name because I never changed mine when I got married. Hopefully when he joins the workforce in 20+ years, this won’t be an issue for him. (I doubt it will.)

      4. Natalie*

        Indeed. The only first degree relative I share a name with is my mom – my brother, my husband, my dad, and both of my step-parents all have different names. (Modern family, woot.) Aside from the runaround, I frankly would have been pissed if my workplace was relying on last names to prove relation. It’s not even old-fashioned, it’s just plain illogical.

        1. Golden Lioness*

          It is! and what if your last name is Smith or Jones? the fact that you share the same common name does not mean that you’re related, either.

      5. Chinook*

        Can’t funeral homes issue some type of official letter? I know FIL was able to get one when DH’s grandfather died and half the family needed official documentation because they were with the military and needed it to prove they weren’t AWOL after the fact. Due to MIL never officially marrying FIL (after her first husband died, whose name she kept), names didn’t match anything and local obits in this remote area included first names only because everybody knows everybody, we were offered official letters on funeral home stationary stating details and family relationships (it was a long letter – think 11 living siblings and each one with a minimum 2 kids plus spouses).

    2. Newby*

      That amount of documentation is insane! It seems like it would be relatively easy to fake an obituary if you really wanted to so that does not make sense to me as some sort of gold standard of proof (although, seriously, needing to prove it is already a step too far). I hope the company revises their policies to something more sane (and human!).

    3. Gandalf the Nude*

      Seriously. She’s requesting bereavement leave, not a passport! Although, a passport to Crazyland wouldn’t be unwise seeing as that’s where she apparently works. For goodness’ sake…

      1. animaniactoo*

        It took me less documentation than this to get my passport.

        Interestingly, it took far more to get my husband’s. He’d never had one before and his driver’s license was too recently renewed to count as “ID”. I overloaded the passport office with evidence of his identity to make sure there weren’t going to be any more questions about it…

        1. OhNo*

          Seriously. I didn’t even have a state ID when I got my first passport, and all I had to have was my birth certificate, SS card, and a witness to vouch for me. That sounds like way less hassle than what this poor employee went through!

          1. Chinook*

            I have to agree. It sounds like the union created/agreed to a requirement that is a higher standard than most governments.

            1. LBK*

              Which just seems all kinds of backwards to me. I can’t imagine what paradigm you’re employing that views this standard of proof as protecting the employee.

        2. LBK*

          It took less documentation than this to get my Global Entry card that allows me to skip customs when I travel internationally. This is bureaucratic narcissism at its finest.

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Nor does sharing a last name mean that two people are related, so jumping through all those hoops to show other people’s name changes is ridiculous. (I guess under this policy anyone with a common surname like Smith could fake lots of dead relatives and get extra bereavement time…)

      1. Jenbug*

        Right??? That’s the most bizarre part.

        My last name is my mother’s maiden name so I do not share a last name with either of my biological parents, stepparents, or six half siblings. If something happened to one of them and I had to jump through hoops to prove that I was related to them, I would probably quit.

      2. Happy Lurker*

        I used to work at a secure location. I got married while there and was in the process of changing my last name. At least once a week the MP didn’t want to let me in because the admin took the easy way out and used my maiden-married name on my paperwork. I had no ID that would ever match that. It was a real pain for the 6 weeks it took to straighten out.

      3. Chinook*

        “Nor does sharing a last name mean that two people are related, so jumping through all those hoops to show other people’s name changes is ridiculous. ”

        As someone who shares a last name with a close friend who is not related (and neither are our husbands, who we received that name from), I have to agree. I don’t care that we even look alike – still not relatives in any way, shape or form.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m just floored that the company wants “proof of relationship” and that this is the documentation they require to prove it. What’s the policy imperative? Catching lying employees who go to funerals for non-family? o_O

  5. Murphy*

    OP – I am so sorry for your own loss. I can’t imagine dealing with that in addition to work duties.

    I’m glad that this whole thing worked out in the end. (Also, and this is more for your company than for your, there are lots of reasons why an obituary may not be released prior to a funeral. In one instance, I had an old friend pass away a few months ago, and I was keeping my eye out for the obituary. The family wanted to keep the service small, and so didn’t want an obituary released until after so as to keep the service details private.)

    1. fposte*

      When my father died, the funeral home had nothing to do with the obituary anyway. I wrote it, and I sent it off to the most relevant newspapers, which printed it without question so long as I paid the fee. Now I’m thinking I could start a service for the bereaved with name changes :-/.

      1. Editor*

        That’s surprising. All the newspapers I worked for and knew of required obits to be submitted by the funeral home so they didn’t get pranked or violate the wishes of the survivor making the arrangements, even when the survivor planned the obit with malice a forethought (omitting previous spouses and their children, for instance). I have seen both virulent and heartbreaking scenes in the newsroom because of this.

        1. fposte*

          Could be they confirmed, but they definitely accepted my submission. Death notices are cheap money these days for the big papers, I think; it’s associated with legacy.com and it’s very much a purchased service.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            Same with us for my grandfather, and the funeral home double-checked his military rank with us. I don’t think we had to submit any documentation, but they did ask us about it. He was a high-ranking officer when he died, and they wanted to make sure we weren’t wrong or making it up.

        2. Miss Betty*

          I wrote my dad’s obituary for the paper where my sister and I live (not the town or state where he died and was buried) and she faxed it in from her office. As long as it was 100 words or under, it was free. I’ve actually never heard of the funeral home handling the obituary, except for the special online websites like legacy. Sometimes those are the same obituaries that are printed in the paper, but not always.

        3. k*

          I used to work the obits department handling several newspapers. We would accept them from private parties, but needed to verify the death . Usually this was just a 10 second phone call to the funeral home, so the person who submitted the notice likely wouldn’t know we did that.

        4. Rebecca in Dallas*

          When my FIL died, I believe my MIL submitted his obituary directly to the newspaper. We didn’t deal with a funeral home at all directly after his death. He had willed his body to a medical school and the medical examiner’s office took his body there. It was months before he was cremated and then interred.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Oh, and my MIL was the one who wrote it and was so out of sorts. I proof-read it for her and found a couple of mistakes (she left off his mother as a survivor), I know she had a couple of other people check it for her as well. My point is that in her fragile state, she could have easily left off a survivor without meaning to.

      2. Me2*

        Same as fposte, siblings and I wrote the obit, paid the newspapers their fees and that was it. For all I know they could have checked it against the list the funeral home provided but I was never questioned in any way.

        1. fposte*

          I just looked, and while I wouldn’t swear they don’t check, it’s handled as an ad, not as something editorial has responsibility for.

    2. eplawyer*

      that’s what hit me too. The LW is dealing with her own loss while sorting out this hot mess. Quite frankly, the company is bonkers. So sorry for your loss, LW.

      1. Chinook*

        I want to add my condolences and awe with the LW. I can’t believe you sanely dealt with this while dealing with your own loss. Am I right in guessing that you probably focused on it because it gave you some type of control to help someone else who is grieving (or something similar)? Whatever your reason, that was amazing “bossing”!

  6. Maryiette*

    I appreciate OP taking the criticism well, but I must say I’m frustrated by how freely condemning and judgmental some people can be on this site. It’s one thing to correct someone or ask them to rethink words, but to assume that someone is being deliberately malicious/privileged/etc and to jump down their throat like it’s a personal crusade is off putting and usually hinders more growth and change than it inspires. Someone who was dealing their own issues and came to this site looking for guidance had to “take a beating” in the comments. That does not sound reasonable. You will never change someone’s mind if you hold them in contempt, and especially not when it’s exceedingly obvious to that person.

    1. Brogrammer*

      As a long-time fan of advice columns as well as someone who has occasionally asked online strangers for advice, it’s actually quite challenging for the person asking the question to know how much information to include. They want the details that are relevant to the situation without writing a big ol’ wall of text… but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s obvious and what’s a key detail when you’re wrapped up in the middle of the situation. I wish more commenters understood that, or barring that understanding, at least took this site’s rule at face value that the letter writers are the expert on their lives and situations.

      1. Kai*

        Yeah–it seems like, when the details are sparse, the commenters are quick to jump to (sometimes outlandish) conclusions; and when there’s tons of detail, people jump on the OP for over-explaining and therefore looking defensive. It’s a tough line to walk.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I wonder how much of that frustration was really about the OP as opposed to the ridiculous bereavement policy and obit requirements. Although those were out of the OP’s control, I could see how easy it is to internalize.

      1. AD*

        I agree, I think most of the ire was directed towards the overly-stringent documentation rules. And for what it’s worth, it sounds like OP feels the same about those policies.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This was my impression, as well, but I am sorry that the OP had to steer through this minefield while managing an extremely difficult personal situation. It could be that the entire experience was so charged that OP may have internalized some feedback that expressed ire at the policy, not at OP.

    3. Student*

      People who write in for advice have to be prepared to accept… advice. Sometimes that advice won’t be easy to hear, or make the letter-writer feel good, because advice isn’t necessarily about making the letter-writer feel good. It’s about rendering a judgement on people’s behaviors, so it’s pretty inherently judgemental.

      We also can’t imagine the hundreds of possible scenarios the letter-writer may be in; it’s about responding to the contents of the letter as it is. We don’t need to treat everyone with kid gloves, and doing so can be counterproductive when you’re trying to point out a problem and get it addressed. On an open board like this, the commenters will naturally put forward a lot of contradictory advice, and not all of it will or should be friendly (it should be civil, though).

      This OP wasn’t horribly scarred by the commentariate. The OP recognized that her first impulse was off, why, and fixed the work issue to the best of her ability admirably. I’m not sure what your comment is really about, here. I really hope you might instead take away the lesson that people dealing with difficult situations, like a miscarriage, can make bad decisions like anyone else, take some direct criticism, and fix the bad decision. Personal tragedies are sad and deserve compassion- but they don’t have to overshadow everything else in a person’s life, and they don’t make a person incapable of dealing with anything else.

  7. Feeling Christmasy*

    I’m so sorry for your loss, OP. I hope your colleagues give you support at this time. I also wonder now, with identity theft being so prevalent, that funeral homes are being more careful with the deceased’s personal information.

  8. insert pun here*

    I’ve had actual wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat nightmares that follow this basic storyline.

    (Also, in what world is an obituary some unassailable, ironclad source? It’s not like there’s some Official Government Records Staff that checks to make sure that all the relationships are Legally Correct As Described. And I know people who have been left out of obits, either because of space issues or actual family feuds.)

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Good point. When one set of my grandparents pass, I won’t be in the obituary because they have too many grandchildren to list! At OP’s employer, I’d have to prove my relation to them some other way. Sheesh.

      1. Sadsack*

        Better start working on your Ancestry . com family tree! Seriously, it is mind-boggling that so much detail is required to get a day off for bereavement.

        1. Natalie*

          I wonder if they would accept my grandfather’s multiple binders of genealogy research. It’s all terribly well documented, but you’re going to have to start at the 1500s and work your way to the present day!

      2. Xarcady*

        This. In my paternal grandparents’ obituaries, I was included in the “and 35 grandchildren,” part. Certainly not listed by name.

        1. Cynicaal Lackey*

          Mrs. Doe was survived by his 35 grandchildren including Jane Doe, Fergus Doe, Wakeem Doe and 32 with reasonable employers.

        2. Observer*

          A few years ago, a woman in Brooklyn passed away and she left something like 2K descendants. No, I’m not kidding. She had a large family (15 children) and most of her children had large families, even if not that large. So just the grandchildren alone came to about 200. That’s pretty large, even by Orthodox Jewish standards, but in such communities, the idea that all of the grandchildren would routinely be listed would be seen as absurd.

        3. blackcat*

          Yep. With one grandfather I was listed by name as one of two grandchildren (blackcat and blackcat’s brother). With another, I was included in “30 grandchildren.” He was my step grandfather, and he and my grandmother each had a lot of kids. Both of them treated step grandchildren like grandchildren. There were only three great grands at the time, but they got the “and three great grandchildren” treatment, too.

          It sounds like in order to prove my relationship under this employer’s standards, I’d need to provide my grandparents wedding certificate! Or maybe I’d be denied all together because he wasn’t a blood relation…

        4. Marillenbaum*

          Exactly! My mother was the tenth of 13 children; I have 39 first cousins on that side (just first cousins, mind; several of the kids I grew up with were my first cousins’ children!). When my grandparents died, there was no way I would show up in the obituary. Luckily for me, my Arabic professor accepted a note from the funeral home (even though I was still quite hurt–I was one of 12 students in the class, had studied under her for three years, and she already knew my grandmother was dying from when I had to take off in the middle of the semester to go to her bedside).

      3. BananaPants*

        When my grandfather died, my manager at the time required me to show an obituary listing me by name as a granddaughter BEFORE he OKed my bereavement leave. I thought it was pretty presumptuous; some families don’t publish obituaries and others don’t list every single grandchild in a large family. But thanks to the wonder of the Internet, even 9 years ago, I was able to produce the obit. He seemed surprised.

        I found out later from HR that generally managers were advised to take employees at their word on bereavement and my manager had overstepped. My then-boss apparently felt that I wasn’t acting distraught enough to truly be bereaved. (Insert huge eye roll here.)

        Meanwhile, when my FIL’s partner died, her family thoughtfully included me, Mr. BP, and our then-only child as survivors in her obituary. The two of them had been together for a decade and I considered her my mother-in-law, but because she and FIL had chosen not to legally marry for financial reasons, I couldn’t use bereavement leave for her wake and funeral. My boss had me take a paid personal day at his discretion rather than use vacation time, which I appreciated.

        1. BananaPants*

          And at the time of grandpa’s passing, he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for over a decade and had no clue who any of us were. In effect I had “said goodbye” years earlier and his passing was a relief, since he was one of the truly unfortunate ones who wasn’t killed by cancer or a heart attack or something else before the Alzheimer’s destroyed his ability to eat without aspirating. We knew the end was approaching for several weeks when he died, so it wasn’t unexpected.

          I wanted to tell my boss to screw himself for assuming I wasn’t legitimately bereaved because I wasn’t weeping and rending garments in the office.

          1. sstabeler*

            I was in much the same situation- though it wasn’t Alzheimer’s- and probably would not have had the self-restraint you had.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I was an online admin many years ago, and we’d gotten word a troublemaker was dead. A suspicious account that had shown up after the “death” was asking questions and demanding info. We asked for an obit and got one a few days later. Then another admin called the local, small newspaper about it, and we learned that the editor will run all obits he received so anyone could make up anything. (And no, the troublemaker was not dead.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I wish I could give them points for creativity, but if you’re going to pretend you’re dead, you have to do a bit more work than this.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      Yeah, I don’t understand how the obituary is a no-questions-asked source for a workplace that otherwise requires an insane amount of legal documentation. If I were Jane, I would definitely be looking for another job at this point — not because of the OP, but because this company is ridiculous. I’m sure she appreciates the OP trying to push back on her behalf, though!

    4. Qmatilda*

      Yep, left out of my Step-mother’s obit (intentionally), though every pet she’d ever owned was listed. At least her pets could have gotten paid for leave. :)

      1. AMG*

        Yep. I was left out of my half-brother’s obituary (we share the same father) by his mother, who wrote and submitted it.

      2. MsChanandlerBong*

        I’m sure my husband will be left out of his dad’s obit by his stepmother. Along with my FIL’s five sisters and their husbands.

        1. Recent College Grad*

          My half-uncle was left out of my grandmother’s obit. He had been put up for adoption as an infant but had found his birth mother a few decades prior to her death. That created a HUGE rift.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        My stepmother has threatened not to tell me when my father dies, because she is a terrible human being. She’s lucky I’m not in a position to write her obituary.

    5. turquoisecow*

      My mother’s parents had 8 children, and something like 15 grandkids and 3 or 4 great-grandkids. Obituaries cost money – they charged by the letter or word – there was no way we were all going to be listed, unless we wanted it to be a full page printing. Thank goodness my workplace didn’t require a copy of the obituary, because I also didn’t share a last name with them. Oh, and I didn’t go to my dad’s parents’ funerals, but I don’t share a last name with them or any of my dad’s relatives – he was the product of a relationship before my grandmother got married, while all his siblings took my step-grandfather’s name.

      I remember several relatives pointing out that the obituary was available if workplaces or schools would require it, but nobody did.

    6. k*

      Reminds me of a story in the news not too long ago about a paper than ran two obituaries for the same man: one written by his wife, the other by his mistress. They listed different family members in each.

    7. Erin*

      Both of my grandmothers passed away this year. I was listed in one because I’m the oldest of 4, but under my maiden name. Uncle’s forgot how to spell my married name, it was also my maternal grandmothers name, we never shared the same last name.And in my other grandmother’s as one of 8 grandchildren.
      Thankfully for As much as the company I work for loves complicated paperwork I was never asked for proof of relationship to use bereavement time.

  9. WellRed*

    This company sounds ridicuolous. Isn’t better to trust your employees rather than jumping through all these hoops. Also, I don’t want o make this about gender, but it seems like this policy leans toward being more unfair to women employees who may (or may not) change their names upon marriage.

    1. SamSam*

      I know, right??? So women who’ve had a name change will have to provide all of this documentation, just to get 1 or 3 days off from work. If I wanted 1 day off for my grandmother’s funeral (1 day!!!) I’d need to provide the obituary listing my dad as one of her surviving children, then provide my birth certificate to prove I was related to my mom? Or a marriage certificate to show I used to have the same last name? They’re asking for a birth / marriage certificate from women just to give them one lousy paid day off.

        1. AnonMurphy*

          Yeah, I’d definitely be like ‘can I just take this unpaid’. I recognize that not everyone is in that financial situation, but jeez.

    2. turquoisecow*

      Good news is, since women need to bring their marriage certificate along to basically anything that needs their ID proven, most of us have easy access to marriage certificates. (I recently got married, and had to do this for my driver’s license and social security, and now I need to change my bank cards. I don’t have a passport yet, but it’ll be needed for that, too.) I can see why some women would opt not to change their names, but apparently that’s unfair to their children. It’s a lose-lose situation. :(

    3. Student*

      Much of the working world still stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that name-changes happen. It’s as if all the people with power and decision-making authority have never had to consider changing their names!

      1. Chinook*

        While it should be easily accepted that name changes happen, I think it is good that government documentation should be required for proof. Otherwise, you could end up creating legal aliases or “borrowing” someone else’s name. Speaking as someone who had two legal identities at one time (one in Quebec, one outside) and since come across someone living in my area with the same name as mine, it truly freaked me out how easy I could have done financial damage under one name and legally walked away from that damage and possibly saddled it on someone else because I had legal proof I was someone else at that time. If I were a different type of person…

        1. LBK*

          I think Student’s point was just that work-related policies where the threat of identity theft isn’t relevant have long been set by the men in charge without the perspective of women who are more likely to actually have to deal with a name change and the ensuing bureaucracy. A sarcastic commentary on yet another reason representation is important.

    4. Venus Supreme*

      I was thinking the same exact thing. I feel like this policy is completely outdated and needs to be rewritten. Unfortunately it looks like no one is really willing to do that if they kept going back to OP with “rules are rules.”

  10. Myrin*

    You handled this really well, OP, not just the situation itself but the (I believe in some points overly harsh) comments on this site – I really highly commend you for that! I’m also so, so sorry for your miscarriage which must have made the whole situation all the more annoying and frustrating. I’m wishing you all the best!

    1. Venus Supreme*

      Yes, OP, I’m so incredibly sorry for your own loss. I hope you found some time to heal and regain some serenity. I think you handled this situation the best you could! It sounds like Jane had a murky relationship with the company that should be monitored, but in this specific situation you advocated for her like you should have. I hope you’re doing better!

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Wow. I never changed my name when I got married because I didn’t want to. No other reason. Seeing what a giant pain it is for such documentation? Now I’m really glad I didn’t.

    Union or no union. This policy is completely asinine, intrusive, and horrible. I get that it is not your fault, OP, but somewhere between asking for obituaries and birth certificates and marriage licenses, common sense and compassion died.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      I actually think I might quit on the spot if my employer required me to provide a birth certificate and marriage license to “prove” my relationship to the deceased.

      My parents got married 40 years ago and my mother changed her name. This year, she applied for the first time for a passport. Since the name on her birth certificate is different than her legal name now, she had to obtain a copy of her marriage license as a bridge document in order to prove her citizenship. In that case, requiring all that documentation seems reasonable. In a workplace where an employee is taking bereavement leave? Not so much.

      1. Czhorat*

        Pretty much. Here’s a sane bereavement policy:

        The manager receiving the request says “I’m sorry for your loss” and tells then they get x days off. The company sends flowers of a fruit basket.

        Are there people who will fake a dead relative for a free day off? Perhaps. It’s very few, and a lost workday from one bad employee is worth far less than the pain you cause actually grieving employees by making them leap through hoops.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          Exactly– I had an intern at OldJob fake a death to get out of working. But she was a terrible worker overall that we ended up letting her go- the fake death was just the straw on the camel’s back. Hopefully as she enters the working world she won’t pull that ish again.

          It seems that if you’re at the point you’re faking a death to get out of work, there’s some serious other issues that are going unaddressed.

  12. Jenn*

    OP, you are a class act with this update and your actions — and at a difficult personal time. Thanks for sharing; it brightened my day and gave me food for thought.

    1. Formica Dinette*

      I agree. I don’t expect LWs to eat humble pie, but it is inspiring to see real life examples of people examining their actions after receiving constructive advice.

  13. Emi.*

    I’m so sorry for your loss, OP. It sounds like you’re being a great advocate for your employee and handling the bureaucracy well.

  14. Compliance Lady*

    I can’t believe that this work place made a grieving widow dig out her marriage certificate so that her daughter can prove a relationship to the deceased. What a heartless policy. If I had been asked to provide anything like this when my dad died I would have been completely traumatized by this.

    1. motherofdragons*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. I am so horrified that Jane had to go through this. But I give kudos to the OP for supporting her, especially during a really difficult time of her own.

  15. Alton*

    I hate obituaries being used as a standard form of “proof” without allowances for cases where they’re not available. We didn’t publish an obituary for my dad because our family is very private, and my mom has half-jokingly warned me that she’ll come back to haunt me if I publish an obituary or even have a funeral for her. Not all families handle death the same way.

    OP, it sounds like you did your best, honestly. There’s not a ton that you can do, personally, except treat your employees with kindness and offer feedback on the documentation requirements if you get the chance.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  16. Christine*

    When I did payroll (as a contractor) for a union company they gave 5 days bereavement leave but required documentation. We handled the forms through the payroll and / or admin office ourselves. All we asked from the employee that was out was the name of the individual that died & the funeral home.

    There was a form that was faxed to the funeral home for them to complete, and than it was faxed back. The only time we had to go to the individual that was out, was if we had an issue getting the form back from the Funeral Home.

    1. SamSam*

      That sounds like a much more compassionate policy! Plus a little more bereavement leave is a nice gesture

  17. Milla*

    That is a bizarre number of hoops to jump through for a day or so of pay.
    Good on you for taking it on, because I would have put the employee in direct contact with HR/Payroll and let them duke it out unless I was absolutely needed.
    I suspect someone in HR/Payroll was being unneededly picky and rigid and should be talked to.
    They had:
    1) You asking beforehand that step parents count, confirming it was not some last-minute, oh-crap-I-went-over-my-time, attempt to get extra leave.
    2) A note from the Funeral Home
    3) A Death Certificate
    4) “Vital Records”
    5) Her mother’s marriage license
    6) The employee’s marriage license
    Some combination of those things should have been enough.
    Next time this happens, suggest the employee write their own obituary for the deceased on an free or inexpensive online news source, making sure to mention themselves by name as a survivor, because this mess is ridiculous.
    And if it ever comes up, slipping in the suggestion that the policy needs to be changed since people are getting away from printed news and may not have obituaries, or may have too many survivors to mention by name, would be a good idea.

    1. Honeybee*

      This was addressed in the original post and in this post, too. It wasn’t HR being picky; it’s in the union contract that they have to provide this paperwork, and OP specifically says she doesn’t have the power to suggest or make any changes. And OP also wrote a lengthy answer for why she wanted to be an advocate for her employee and helped out. Good managers advocate for their employees and help them navigate processes like these.

    2. Christine*

      The union policy shouldn’t apply to non-union employees, especially when the documentation is a burden in this situation. The union contract was voted on, the union members are stuck with the policy unless the employer is misinterpreting it. The contract needs to be reviewed, the OP should be able to ask for a copy of it.

      The current policy operates as if everyone is a liar. I wonder how many people just take leave and/or sick time to avoid the paperwork for a funeral. It’s a violation of privacy for the company to ask for this.

      1. Chinook*

        I don’t know. It sort of makes sense, from a bureaucracy point of view, to have one policy in place for all employees. Since the union one was negotiated and voted upon by a segment of the employees, there really shouldn’t be any reason why it wouldn’t be accepted by all employees. My issue would be with the union agreeing on this in the first place because it implies that they agree that the union employees are inherently liars.

  18. LQ*

    Thank you very much for this update OP. You did a great job in advocating for your employee. Thanks for sending this in.

  19. Xarcady*

    Obituaries cost money. In the past, the papers would print them for free, but now the family has to pay. And the longer the obituary, the more you pay. (There may be small, local papers that still print a free obituary, but the funerals I’ve been involved with the last 10-15 years, you had to pay.) My local paper prints the person’s name and town of residence for free. Anything else will cost you.

    So people wanting to cut costs don’t print obituaries. Or they print short ones, that don’t name all the relatives.

    There’s also the spite obituary, where the person filling out the form deliberately leaves off the name of a family member they dislike, or lumps them into “and several other relatives,” type of thing.

    While I can understand the OP’s company not wanting to be scammed on bereavement leave, they should realize that the times, they are achangin’, and figure out a new, better way to deal with this situation. Someone who is suffering the fresh, sharp pain of the death of a loved one should not be having to run around trying to prove the loved one died, and that they are related to that person.

    1. LQ*

      Most of the ones I’ve been involved with recently are included in the costs from the funeral home, so you get like x words included as a part of your funeral package. Which makes people think they are free since they aren’t writing checks to the paper. But that could also be a regional thing.

      Or the person is local famous and gets a local famous person dies obit for free because it is news.

      Also it is weird that everyone is blaming the company when the OP is pretty clear that it is the union here demanding this. It is a part of the contract. So, yes, the union should get with the times. (In my world the only more behind the times group than government is government unions…so…yes…very much get with the times.)

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, but OP has also said that her employees are NOT in the union, but still held to those rules. She could definitely suggest HR update their documentation to allow for some flexibility in deviating from the union rules.

        If the union contract is a local one (not negotiated at some headquarters location for the entire national workforce, for instance), OP might also consider telling the president of the union this story and suggest they propose amending the contract next time it’s up for negotiation to add other alternative forms of documentation besides just an obituary. After all, next time this could be a union member being dragged through the wringer by payroll. Chances are it won’t be changed, because union contract negotiations usually have a lot of points to debate over and this is fairly minor in the big picture, but it is possible.

      2. Thornus67*

        The union may not be demanding it. It is part of the collective bargaining agreement which the union negotiated with the employer. We don’t know which side negotiated the obituary requirement, but having worked with unions, I am willing to be that jumping through a hoop like that was put in by the employer. Then, since OP and her employees are not bargaining unit members, they are not subject to the CBA. However, the employer has then decided that it’s easier to have this one hoop (obituary to get bereavement leave) be uniform for all employees, whether covered by the CBA or not, rather than have different policies for CBA employees and non-CBA employees.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, this. I would be surprised if the union suggested inclusion of this policy in the CBA.

  20. Bianca*

    Oh dear lord. What if the family doesn’t publish an obituary? Not every family chooses to do this (one side of my family is completely anti-funeral, and when someone dies, they simply get cremated and ashes left with the funeral home to dispose of…no funeral, no service, no obituary.)

    As a side note, I think the whole “prove your relationship” is horrifying, especially in the modern age when families are more fluid and less official. I am not close at all to my blood family, and I am not married or otherwise legally tied to people I do consider my family. If employers think their employees are going to lie about something like this, they should get rid of them or go to therapy to overcome their trust issues.

  21. Jessesgirl72*

    To those who have never worked in a union shop, or for a company who has union employees, the amount of required documentation seems excessive, but the critics are forgetting that in order for the company to fire anyone , the amount of documentation required is even more excessive. It’s just an unintended consequence of the system. I have been on both sides of it. A drug test for someone who will never be around heavy machinery sounds insanely invasive, for instance, until you learn that after the person is hired, the company has to pay for him to go to rehab 3 times (no exaggeration! I personally had this protection, spelled out in my employee handbook!) before they can fire him, regardless of the damage the employee caused while high or how much absenteeism was involved. So it makes sense that they want to screen for someone with illegal drugs in their system in the hiring process. If the process for firing someone for absenteeism is long and arduous (and it is in most unions!) then it makes sense that in order to be paid for a day you took off, you need to prove that it meets the requirements. Before the company could fire Jane, they would have had to prove that it didn’t meet the requirements! Which is probably why Jane still had her job, despite the previous absenteeism and ethics violations.

    And the reasons companies apply the same rules across the board, for union and non-union employees is because it’s a huge morale hit for some of your workforce to have more privileges and protections than the other half. So with the privileges come the same regulations.

    I am not at all defending the rules and red tape as *RIGHT.* I just point out that they aren’t arbitrary and have their reasons. It’s an unintended consequence of not being able to fire someone at-will.

    1. Lemon*

      I really appreciate this perspective. It doesn’t change that this whole situation is total headdesk material, but it does provide interesting insight that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

    2. Sunshine Brite*

      Not necessarily, I’m union now and there are a list of people you can get bereavement for in the contract and you don’t have to provide documentation. My old non-union position you definitely needed an obituary and less relationships were included for less time off.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Yes. I appreciate Jessesgirl72’s perspective on this, but it isn’t true of all union contracts. I took bereavement leave while I was a union employee, and I just had to fill out a form stating my relationship to the person who died.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I didn’t mean to imply that all union companies did it this way. Just I can see why it is for the ones who do- and why their rules are applied across the entire company.

          I vaguely think I used bereavement in my union job, and didn’t need to show anything. However, I know of specific cases of a couple people who had absentee problems (like Jane) who were made to produce proof. Which, singling someone out like that then caused problems, and so proof was later enforced for everyone.

          Usually, Alison advocates the very reasonable approach that you either trust your employees, or you don’t, and if there are reasons why you don’t trust someone, they likely should be fired for those reasons (after giving them opportunities to improve), instead of wasting everyone’s time and energy to police them or treating them like wayward toddlers. I just wanted to point out why that approach doesn’t work in companies like the OP’s.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think Jessesgirl is saying that all union contracts are this way—she’s saying that there are rational reasons that employers negotiate provisions into CBAs. The policy itself may seem overkill or irrational, and the reasoning might be poor, but it’s not arbitrary.

    3. Mrs__Peel*

      “Before the company could fire Jane, they would have had to prove that it didn’t meet the requirements!”

      It doesn’t sound like Jane is a union member, though. She just gets to jump through the same bureaucratic hoops, with none of the union’s due process and job protections.

  22. Honeybee*

    OP, it’s so great that you learned from your answer and turned into an advocate for your employees! I’m sure Jane appreciated the work you went through for her :) Glad this had a good resolution.

    It’s so strange that your company won’t accept official vital records but will take an obituary, which can be put together by anyone at any time without any verification. When my grandmother died, my aunt made the obituaries and printed them on a home printer. I was listed as “…and 21 grandchildren.”

    1. Katie*

      I was thinking that, too. The amount of documentation they need to give someone three days off for the death of a close relative is ridiculous. But not everyone even HAS an obituary, and not every obituary lists every surviving relative.

  23. FormerLibrarian*

    I’m here imagining a company like this trying to deal with an employee whose family follows Icelandic naming conventions.

    While I haven’t changed my name except much (when I got married I kept my maiden name as an extra middle name, e.g. Beth A Smith to Beth A S Jones) I have the awkward situation where my husband’s ex has the exact same first *and* middle names as I do, and even though she has remarried at least once she opted to keep my husband’s last name. Many systems only allow you to enter one middle initial so I tend to use the S, but there are still two Beth A Smiths running around, and my husband’s last name isn’t that common. I could see trying to deal with a company like this as being a total nightmare.

    OP: I am so sorry for your loss.

  24. MMDD*

    No joke, if I were the bereaved employee here I’d be looking for another job after this debacle. I can’t imagine being expected to provide my mother’s marriage license (!!) when an obit couldn’t be found for a couple of days of leave.

    Also, OP-I’m sorry for your miscarriage. I’ve been there and slogged through work with a smile on my face when I was dying inside as well. Hopefully you see your rainbow soon.

  25. LoiraSafada*

    The obit thing is just insane. My family has never published one for a deceased relative, primarily for privacy reasons. It also frequently costs money to run an obituary.

  26. Critter*

    I guess this is why commenters pointed out the policy. Look how weird it can get. “Are they dead? Are you related? ARE YOU SURE?”

    I’m so sorry for your loss OP :(

  27. Observer*

    Wow. What a mess. Please don’t beat yourself up for coming back to work too soon. You really were between a rock and a hard place.

    Given what you describe, I’m betting you didn’t get a whole lot of sympathy or accommodation about your miscarriage either. And, even if it was an early one, it’s rough enough to deal with without having to deal with overly rigid rules and bullies.

    You have my sympathies!

  28. LQ*

    So this all made me wonder what my union contract says about bereavement. Basically? I can take sick leave if someone dies. That’s it. No extra time. Nothing in my contract about what is required to prove relationship, but the list of relationships you can take it for is specific and nothing allowed beyond that. (So when my aunt dies, who I will definitely need leave for, I’ll just have to rely on vacation or hope my boss is understanding and doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t tell HR who would demand I follow the letter (I do think my boss would be we’d just need to keep it quiet from HR))

    I kind of wonder what other contracts say.

    1. SamSam*

      My company handbook has a very small list of people you get paid time off for – so when my aunt/godmother died 1 month before my vacation day accrual kicked in, I asked if I could use sick time to go to the funeral, which was across the country. (And I had no problem with absenteeism in those 1st 5 months on the job, even coming in during snowstorms).
      A thoughtful boss would have said sure, go ahead, use your sick time, sorry for your loss. Instead what I was told was that’s not what sick days are for, and I’d have to take those days unpaid. The lesson I learned was not to be upfront about sick days, and that they’d never let me schedule them in advance, so I feel like at the end of the day, my higher ups shot themselves in the foot with that response.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        A similar thing happened to me. I had to take a day off to drive a co-worker and close friend to the hospital. We were in a geographically isolated area and neither of us had family close by. The next day, I apologized to my supervisor and explained the situation… and she told me cheerfully that I couldn’t use a sick day for that, because my friend wasn’t a member of my immediate family. The clear lesson was not to talk about why I was taking leave.

        (I know it’s not unusual to have limits on using sick days to care for people. It just wasn’t realistic in this context, and my supervisor really could have cautioned me about the policy and let it slide.)

        1. SamSam*

          I guess I think it should be unusual to place limits on sick days :) Most jobs have a limit on how many you can take per year, so if you want to use one or more of them to help someone else who’s sick, what difference does it really make to them?
          I got lucky with previous jobs where I was encouraged to use up all my days, so for example my former boss let me take “personal days” throughout December to use up my sick time. It’s a benefit offered by the company that, when you hire responsible employees, works out for everyone.
          I’m sorry you went through the horrible situation of bringing someone to the hospital, only to have your supervisor make it worse.

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          My last company had it written into the employee handbook that you could use sick time to care for people close to you who were sick. Obviously, there were some limits on that, but they were at least human enough to recognize that sometimes adults that are not ill themselves have to sometimes help out other people that are sick. They would have accepted this situation as a legitimate use of a sick day without batting an eye.

          Although that company developed some serious management problems before I left, they were always generous with their benefits and tried to do right by their employees. Unfortunately, I have since learned that that approach is not universal.

        3. Chinook*

          Even definitions of what are considered “immediate family” can change. You would think having to pick up my husband at the hospital would count (especially since I came in and worked part of my shift while waiting for the call to get him, so they had time to get overage). Nope – I was told it was acceptable if it were my children in hospital but not DH, despite the fact that neither of us had family in the region. So, I was written up for leaving early. I was never so happy to find another job!

          1. Callie*

            Oh, the “immediate family” definitions are ludicrious. For example, my brother is considered “immediate family” by my employer and I get bereavement leave, but his daughter, my only niece, is NOT considered “immediate family” so if something happens to her I have to take an unpaid day for her funeral. Lovely.

      2. Pommette*

        A similar thing happened to me recently. (With one caveat – I’m juggling multiple part-time contracts, and ineligible for any kind of paid time off. Since my contracts don’t provide for unpaid time off, either, I could be fired for taking any leave that isn’t covered under employment laws).

        A few months into two new jobs, my grandfather died. My grandparents helped raise me, and I was as close to them as I am to my parents. I explained to my managers that I would need to leave town for four days (one day to get there, one day to get back, and two days to be with family and to take care of his affairs). One manager gave her condolences and told me that we could worry about work after I got back. She used the information I provided to make alternate plans to ensure that my work was covered during my absence, and has never mentioned what must have been a big inconvenience for her.

        The manager at the other job never expressed sympathy for my loss. She told me that it was unacceptable to take time off without providing her with at least a few weeks’ notice. She has since brought this incident up as a serious blemish on my record. I would have been much better off waiting until the last minute to contact her, and pretending to be too sick to come in to work. I have since noticed that my coworkers (people who I’m sure would be honest in other circumstances) regularly engage in this kind of strategic dishonesty. It seems that we have all learned our lesson.

    2. Xarcady*

      The company I temp for rolled all paid leave into one PTO bank a few years ago, including bereavement leave. I know this because someone in my department had a death in the family last December–and they had used up all their paid leave. So they had to take a few days of unpaid leave for the funeral (it was out of state).

      I always thought bereavement leave was in addition to your regular leave, because it is something you can’t plan ahead of time. It seems odd to have one PTO bank that includes sick days, vacation days and bereavement leave. The company used to offer bereavement leave of 1-3 days, so basically they removed that benefit, as the PTO banks were not increased by that amount of time.

      1. Drew*

        My employer has one PTO bank as well and doesn’t have a written bereavement policy, but when I’ve had to take time off for funerals, they’ve “refunded” some or all of the PTO without my having to so much as ask for it.

        At a previous job, one of my coworkers lost his grandfather, whom he was extremely close to, and was told that the official policy was three days paid but if he wanted to use his personal days to extend that, it would be approved without question.

    3. a different Vicki*

      A lot depends on your boss, and on how closely HR is tracking anything. When my mother’s husband was dying, I asked my boss about leave for the funeral, and she told me they would put in paperwork for bereavement leave and list him as my father. (My father had died years earlier, so there was no risk of winding up in a “maximum three grandmothers’ funerals per person per year” sort of situation.)

    4. CanCan*

      In mine (collective agreement, government), you can take:
      – 5 days for “family” = “father, mother (or alternatively stepfather, stepmother, or foster parent), brother, sister, spouse (including common-law partner spouse resident with the employee), child (including child of common-law partner), stepchild or ward of the employee, grandchild, father-in-law, mother-in-law, the employee’s grandparents and relative permanently residing in the employee’s household or with whom the employee permanently resides.” (plus up to 3 days for travel)
      – 1 day for son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt or uncle.

      I guess nieces/nephews aren’t covered.

  29. anonycait*

    OP I’m so sorry about your loss. I also returned to work the day after a miscarriage just a few months ago and the whole thing has been the worst, most miserable experience of my life. I hope you’re able to take the time you need to get back on your feet, emotionally/physically-speaking.

  30. Anon 12*

    In an HR role, I have been asked to supply an obit as part of the supporting documentation when presenting a life insurance claim. That always seemed odd to me, like you could fake a death certificate but not an online obituary?

    1. Liane*

      Yes, as if the obit is the Official and Legal one. For life insurance claims, I would expect them to insist on a death certificate, because most (all?) policies exclude some causes of death. Many obits don’t include that information, or if they do, it may be vague or inaccurate.

  31. Liane*

    Sorry for your loss OP. You were trying to help Jane when you were dealing with your own grief and health. I am glad you got this straightened out and hope things go better for you this coming year.

    And I don’t know what the negotiators (union & company both) were thinking of when they put only obituary as acceptable in the contract. We lost both my in-laws while I worked for Famed Retailer and they were fine with the service cards the funeral home printed out, which didn’t list any survivors.

    (Whatever FR’s publicized faults as an employer, handling bereavement leave wasn’t one of them. It was the pretty standard [judging from comments with the original post] 3 consecutive shifts/days, but they were flexible if you had to travel a long way or needed the days spaced. I took the day my MIL passed & the next shift. I asked & got management to let me work my other shifts the next few days and use the third leave day for her funeral the next week.)

  32. Newspaper clerk*

    There is no law that says that an obituary must be run in the local newspaper. As stated above, Obituaries are now run as an ad – that is you have to pay by the line and you can anything in them that you want to, leave out relatives that you are angry with, etx. Many families cannot afford to place an obit now. I know – I used to write them when they were free. That an employer would require them to pay for bereavement days will put some employees in a hard place to prove the death and relationship.

  33. Becky*

    When my paternal grandmother passed away in 2010 I was at a company that required documentation. The online obituary was sufficient. It was the first time I had experienced a close death in the family while working . I thought the documentation thing was a bit weird but chalked it up to my being inexperienced in the workplace. In 2014 when my maternal grandmother passed away I asked my manager at my new job if I needed to provide the obituary or any documentation and his reaction was more a long the lines of “of course not, just put the hours in your time sheet with the bereavement time code.”

  34. cataloger*

    OP, so sorry for your loss. A few things:

    Thanks for recognizing how difficult such paperwork can be while you’re grieving; when I returned to work after my mother died, my boss had already filled out my absence form for me with all the relevant information, and I only had to sign it. I think I appreciated that more than when she brought brownies to my dad’s house (she was great).

    A funny story: When I was trying to get a copy of my birth certificate, I had to send in a notarized form, and as my dad was a notary, I had him do it. They wouldn’t accept it, as we had the same uncommon last name. Surely he was MORE sure of who I was than the stranger I got to properly notarize the form! He had never been told that he couldn’t notarize documents for family, only that he was not allowed to fight in a duel (or to be a second in a duel).

    1. Adlib*

      In my state, it’s okay to notarize for family members unless you have a stake in some sort of financial transaction or similar. (I’m a notary.)

  35. Adlib*

    My husband’s company requires obituaries for bereavement leave. It seriously annoys me. My company, far from perfect, just trusts us to be reasonable human beings where loss is concerned. I’m glad this update had a resolution after a long struggle!

  36. orchidsandtea*

    Oh, OP, I am so sorry for your loss. Please be very kind to yourself as you remember your actions here: At a time when you were most drained and grieving, you went to bat for someone else who was drained and grieving. That is remarkable. The system is screwed up, but you are not at fault for that. You did a good thing for Jane, and I hope you can remember this with a sense of honor, not self-blame.

    1. Pommette*

      You expressed the sentiment more eloquently than I could have.

      OP: I am so sorry for your loss. You tried to do the right thing in a difficult situation (grief, rigid policies, workplace tensions). I’m sure that that, in itself, was a comfort to Jane at the time; I hope that knowing that is a comfort to you, too.

  37. rubyrose*

    I live in a state away from the family. My mother and I were estranged for about 20 years. My sister asked if I wanted to know if she became seriously ill or died, and I said yes.

    A few years ago my sister left me a message that I would be receiving a check from her closing out mom’s bank account. I get online and sure enough, my mother had died four months before (this is not the first time my sister “accidentally” did not notify me of a death in the family).

    Even though I was estranged from my mom there was an emotional impact and I needed a day off. God bless my manager at the time. She offered three days bereavement with no questions asked. I took one.

  38. Mena*

    I went back and re-read your original letter. I’m unconvinced you handled this poorly from the beginning; I think you can stop feeling badly on this non-issue.
    Yes, your company has rules and holds everyone to them – not unusual at all. The process required an obituary, which was provided as soon as it was available. The delay in providing it wasn’t your fault.

    1. Teclatrans*

      Hm, I disagree. I think OP is acknowledging that she got suckered into Director’s toxic response and, when she wrote in, was deep in reactive mode and worried that she was being played. I am actually more impressed that she was able to pull back and course-correct, finding her footing and her own source of power and advocating for employee. I think that is more kick-ass than having been right all along. (This is a lesson I am working on with my 6 year old, and trying to embody/embrace in my own life.)

  39. Jill*

    Good grief! (No pun intended). For what it must have cost in staff time and lost productivity to do all this paper chasing, the company probably would have been cheaper off just paying the employee for the day right from the get-go.

    I work for a bureaucracy (government) and we, too, generally have non-union employees held to the same standards for a lot of things. But this is just over the top. I’m sorry both the bereaved and the OP had to deal with this. Kudos to the OP for realizing the need to be an advocate for the staff.

  40. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, thank you so much for updating us and for giving us more context. It sounds like you truly did the best you could do in difficult circumstances, and you really handled this situation with grace. I can’t imagine balancing all of this so soon after a major life event, and I admire your fortitude. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  41. Still Hurts*

    OP, I’m so sorry for your loss. And I think you need to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break when it came to not being in the best frame of mind when all of this happened. I had a miscarriage 6 months ago, and in the weeks following, due to grief and the hormones, I was definitely not my best at work, at home, anywhere.

    1. Don't tell me there's a reason*

      Me too, Still Hurts. It took a long time — about three months to feel normal again, even most of the time, and I’ll never be the same.

      You aren’t alone.

  42. League*

    OP, I’ve read every single letter on this site and you’re one of the most impressive. You advocated for your employee from the beginning, clarified the policy as much as you could, put up with all the bureaucracy, got nailed in the comments here, and all while you were going through a substantial personal loss. Then your update letter was super-professional and kind despite the “beating.” For what it’s worth from this Internet Stranger, I think you’re pretty amazing.

    1. Pommette*

      Just to add one more thing to League’s list: when you weren’t sure that the manner in which you were dealing with this situation was right, you sought outside help. And took it. That’s a thoughtful and open-minded thing to do.

  43. Lora*

    Made me wonder what they would make of this guy:


    “Chris enjoyed cross dressing, a well-made fire, and mashed potatoes with lots of butter. His regrets were few, but include eating a rotisserie hot dog from an unmemorable convenience store in the summer of 1986.

    Of all the people he touched, both willing and unwilling, his most proud achievement in life was marrying his wife Emily Ayer Connors who supported him in all his glory during his heyday, and lovingly supported him physically during their last days together.

    Absolut vodka and Simply Orange companies are devastated by the loss of Connors.”

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Obituary goals.
      Although in my case, we’d probably be getting corporate condolences from the Thai restaurant around the corner and Knob Creek Bourbon.

  44. SheLooksFamiliar*

    After reading this thread, I have a new appreciation for my current boss. In the past 7 years I lost my beloved niece (the daughter I never had) and a couple of very dear friends who are my chosen family. My boss never asked me for anything except my critical project status, so she could run interference for me, and when I thought I’d be back. She’s done the same thing for other team members, and we all appreciate her compassion and support when we needed it the most.

    Yeah, I know. ‘Rules are rules’ probably came about because someone abused the system. But this employer makes my teeth hurt.

  45. CanCan*

    It’s a ridiculous requirement to have to provide an obituary! It’s not like everyone has obituaries! I wouldn’t want my family to have to pay for an obituary if I passed away, – who is going to read it, anyway? Why should someone’s workplace dictate that a relative of an employee have to have an obituary?

    Does your company know that even if people’s last names are the same, it doesn’t mean they are related? If my last name happens to be Smith, can I get bereavement leave by bringing an obituary of a random Smith from the newspaper?

    And asking for someone’s mother’s marriage certificate? Nobody’s ever asked me for mine, or my parents for theirs! I would be SO fuming if my employer asked for my PARENTS’ marriage certificate, which they may not have, or may not want to give me, or the parents could be deceased and the certificate lost… and from another country and not replaceable, or it may have to be translated from another language…

    Or what if the stepfather was the mother’s common law husband? Does that not count as a relative, then? There may not be documentary proof of the relationship, in that case (though, in Canada, there would be: tax return forms, – however those are really not an employer’s business). Or are common-law relationships not recognized where the OP lives?

    This “proof” that your company wants could be provided by a sworn declaration / affidavit.

  46. Lili*

    I’m glad everything worked out (albeit with much difficulty), OP! The original post came out the day before my dad suddenly died, so I was actually very insistent that an obituary be written. Luckily it wasn’t needed, but it was on my mind.

Comments are closed.