If I took PTO as well as bereavement leave, would my job be at risk if I actually didn’t work while I’m off?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If I took PTO as well as bereavement leave, would my job be at risk if I actually didn’t work while I’m off?

In one day, my father-in-law passed away, I got a concussion, and my son broke his leg. I’ve taken PTO time in conjunction with paid bereavement during my time off. My boss continuously emails me asking me to remotely take care of things (even on the day of the funeral). I have a doctor’s note to rest and take time from work. I realize that is an employment in my state is at-will but I don’t know if there are boundaries to that. Can I just rest and be with my family white we grieve the passing of my father-in-law?

Asked on February 7, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Michigan


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Yes, your job could be ask. While you might have recourse, it could be expensive and difficult to vindicate your rights, and it's not certain you'd win.
1) As to the PTO: employers can generally require employees to do work on PTO days, subject to the following--if it's more than a few minutes (e.g. just staying on top of messages; sending someone some files they need to review, or quickly approving something so it can move forward), it may mean that the PTO day is treated as a work day--the employee should be paid regularly and the day treated as working offsite/from home if he/she does more than a small amount of work when he/she is supposed to be on PTO. In theory, if forced to use PTO on days when you are still required to work, you could sue to get the value of those days, but that's not a very practical solution.
2) Companies are not required to give paid bereavement leave; since it is not a requirement for them, they could in theory simply cancel it if circumstances change and they need you to do work. If you made plans based on the expectation of leave which they affirmatively promised you--e.g. to go to another state to stay with/visit family--you may be able to enforce the leave against the company on the basis you reasonably relied on the promise and did something expensive or to your detriment; but that premise is more difficult to apply if you are "simply" at home. So if you are just staying at home, you are subject to having to work.
3) A doctor's note has no direct power over the employer; the doctor is not an officer or executive of the company, with authority over it.
4) You may be able though, if you (concussion) or a famly member (your son; broken leg) need time out for medical care, to take unpaid FMLA Leave, if you are eligible (basically worked more or less full time for a year; and have been with this employer for a year) and the company is covered by the law (has at least 50 employees). You can find the FMLA guidelines on the U.S. Dept. of Labor website.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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