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Will grieving parents get a break from Congress?

Monday - 4/21/2014, 4:33am  ET

Erica Kluger (Courtesy Barry Kluger)
Barry Kluger lost his daughter Erica, shown here in a 1985 photo, in a car crash in 2001, when she was 18. (Photo courtesy Barry Kluger)

WASHINGTON -- Barry Kluger lost his daughter, Erica, in 2001. He turned to other grieving parents for solace, and found -- much to his dismay -- that some were headed back to work long before they were ready.

Kluger, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., owns his own business and was able to take time off to grieve after the car accident that claimed his 18-year-old daughter's life.

He says the Family Medical Leave Act, which provides job-protected leave to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or a sick family member, does not apply in cases like his. Instead of a guarantee of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, grieving parents typically get three to five days.

"Unfortunately, we have heard too many stories of parents who were fired, or their jobs were mysteriously done away with, all in reaction to the fact that the person took off time," Kluger says.

And so he's launched a campaign to expand the law, working in tandem with Kelly Farley, a Chicago dad who lost two children.

They began traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., making their case before individual members of Congress. On Feb. 5, 2013 -- the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act -- the Parental Bereavement Act was introduced in both the House and Senate.

Kluger says they are working on the assumption that Congress did not willfully neglect grieving parents in the original law.

"We think bereavement was just an oversight at the time," he says.

Leaders of the grassroots campaign to expand the law say they have found a lot of support from members of Congress. Almost 40 congressmen and women have already signed on as co-sponsors, including John Delaney, D-Md., who calls it "the compassionate, moral thing to do."

But critics on the Hill say there is already too much government regulation of workplaces.

If a grieving parent is forced to return to work, Kluger says, "productivity goes down, morale goes down, and the company loses money."

He says strong relationships between employers and employees -- especially at times of sorrow -- can help boost corporate loyalty and the bottom line.

Kluger says he is hopeful of passage before Congress leaves for the year. But the Library of Congress' legislation-tracking website -- called "Thomas" -- says the chances it will ever come up for a vote are very slim.

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