‘I wasn’t sick, I was grieving’: Md. state employees to get more paid bereavement leave when a child dies

Among the hundreds of bills passed in Maryland’s State House this year is one that will give state employees who lose a child more paid time for bereavement.

Currently, state workers get three days of paid bereavement leave.

Under the legislation passed unanimously in both chambers, parents of infants younger than six months will get up to 60 days paid bereavement leave. Parents who lose a child older than six months and younger than 27 years would get 10 paid leave days.

“What’s notable about this bill is that I think it really hinged on one person’s personal experience,” Maryland State Del. Vaughn Stewart told WTOP following the passage of House Bill 52.

He’s referring to the testimony of Lauren Reider, who works for the Department of Social Services under the purview of Maryland’s Department of Human Services.

As she testified before a House panel, Reider struggled to compose herself several times when she told lawmakers about how she had been approved for weeks of paid parental leave, but then lost her son Noah, who lived just 20 days.

Reider explained that soon after giving birth at Johns Hopkins, her son was placed in the pediatric intensive care unit.

“I can count on one hand how many times I was able to hold my baby,” she said tearfully, “one of them being the two hours leading up to his death. The minute that his heart stopped beating, was the minute I no longer qualified for the eight and a half weeks of parental leave that I had been approved for.”

Addressing the legislators directly, Reider said, “Tell me why a grieving mother is expected to return to work after three days, while a mother whose baby lives is allowed up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Noah’s funeral wasn’t even planned in three days.”

Stewart said it’s not uncommon for lawmakers whose days include hours of witness testimony on dozens of bills each day to have their heads down, checking their phones and laptops, keeping tabs on upcoming votes and checking messages. But that wasn’t the case during Reider’s testimony.

“Everyone was watching, everyone was hanging on every word,” Steward said. “And you could really hear a pin drop in the room.”

“Lauren’s story,” said Stewart, “demonstrates the fairness aspect of this, and how horrible it is to deny or overturn someone’s parental leave policy because their child dies.”

Stewart said the bill brings Maryland’s bereavement leave for state workers on par with that of the District of Columbia, an important issue, he said, given the high vacancy rate in many Maryland state agencies. He also said that the upper limit of 60 days will put Maryland ahead of most states with among the most generous bereavement leave laws in the country.

Again, Stewart credited the power of Reider’s testimony. He called it one of those examples “where one regular person decided to come to Annapolis to testify for two minutes and literally changed the course of a bill that is now going to set a new standard across the country.”

The bill is currently headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. Once signed into law, it would go into effect Oct. 1.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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