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Bill would give Oregon workers time to grieve

SALEM — The daughter of a woman who died in the December shooting spree at Clackamas Town Center spoke to a House committee on Friday in favor of a bill that would require employers to give their workers two weeks of unpaid time off to grieve the loss of a relative.

“There was no way I could have gone back to work the next day,” said Jenna Passalacqua, daughter of Cindy Yuille. Yuille was one of two people fatally shot by a 22-year-old who then killed himself.

Passalacqua told the House Business and Labor Committee she was lucky to have an employer who gave her six weeks of paid leave to grieve. She said all workers should have at least two weeks to mourn the loss of a relative.

But business groups said the bill would place unnecessary hardships on employers, and that employers are usually understanding about giving time off for mourning.

“It should be an employee-employer issue,” said Jan Meekcoms, state director for the Oregon National Federation for Independent Business.

The bill seemed to strike a chord with everyone in the hearing room, including some committee members.

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, said she was working a high-pressure sales job when her father died seven years ago. Fagan, who supports the bill, said she took time off to attend his funeral and then went right back to work because she feared losing her job.

But, she said, the quick return helped cost her the job.

“Obviously, I had not a great month in sales,” said Fagan, crying as she told her story. “And then I was terminated.”

Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, said he understands the pain of losing a loved one. The committee vice-chair choked back tears as he talked about his first wife, who died of breast cancer, and the pain he feels years later. Still, Kennemer said he didn’t think requiring two weeks of time off would do much to help alleviate someone’s grief.

“I don’t know how we work the grief situation out because people need different times, it hits at different times, and, frankly, in certain ways, it never goes away,” he said.

House Bill 2950 would add “death of a family member” to the 1995 Oregon Family Leave Act, which requires employers of businesses with 25 or more employees to give their workers job-protected time off to care for themselves or family members in cases of illness, injury, child birth or adoption. The bereavement time would have to be taken within three months.

Under the law, employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during the year to deal with personal or family-related issues, but time off for bereavement is not included.

The two-week bereavement period would be counted toward the total amount of time employees are allowed to take for family leave.

The Senate endorsed a similar bill in 2011. It died in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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