The state Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill to grant workers up to 12 weeks of partially paid bereavement leave if a family member dies.

It is not clear whether the governor will sign the bill when it hits his desk sometime later this year. Once delivered, he will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill.

The bill expands the paid family leave act that went into effect Jan. 1, granting workers up to 12 weeks of leave paid at a percentage of their salaries for situations such as the birth or adoption of a child, or the need to care for an ill relative.

The bill to add bereavement apparently was extremely popular among legislators who passed it with one no-vote in the Senate and passed the Assembly 111-32. Local representatives Marc Butler, R-Newport, and Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, were among the no votes.

Sen. David Valesky, D-Oneida, a co-sponsor, called the original paid leave law “a landmark piece of legislation in the country,” but one with a flaw.

“As part of that original law, it was not made explicitly clear that the paid family leave program would apply for bereavement leave,” he said. “As a result, many of us thought this law was really an extension and a clarification of the existing law.”

In tragic situations, such as the death of a child, grieving can take a long time and legislators wanted to show the “greatest amount of compassion,” Valesky added.

Attempts to reach other area legislators were unsuccessful.

Business leaders have urged the governor to veto the bill. William Guglielmo, president of the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s heard from several concerned members.

“Small businesses will have serious challenges in managing staffing levels to meet customer needs if the governor signs the bill,” he said. “It’s difficult for employers to maintain a steady workforce as it is.”

There are seemingly no restrictions on when employees can choose to take leave after a family member’s death, he noted. And a “significant majority” of employers already offer bereavement leave, he said.

“Our employers do not need the imposition of another costly government mandate that further erodes their marketability locally, regionally and statewide, making them less competitive and New York less attractive in relation to our neighboring states for business retention and growth,” Guglielmo said.

The timing of the bill also is bad, said Frank Kerbin, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Business Council of New York State. The state Department of Financial Services is working on an assessment of the economic impact of the original bill, but it won’t be out until September, he said. So the council doesn’t favor any expansion before the findings are known.

The council also shares Guglielmo’s concerns about the lack of restrictions, which are spelled out for other family leave situations, Kerbin said. Theoretically, he could take a 12-week bereavement leave now for his mother’s death in 1986 and another leave next year, he said. The bill could and should be improved, he said.

Grief and the needs of the grieving vary tremendously from person to person, as would the amount of time people might need to take off work, said Joanne Moskal, chief operating officer of Hospice and Palliative Care Inc. in New Hartford.

“Grief lasts as long as it takes to adjust to the changes in someone’s life after a loss," she said. "It can be for months or even years. Grief has no timetable. Thought and emotions and other responses may come and go.” 

Moskal said she isn’t familiar enough with the specifics of the bill to comment on it.

Roxanne Mutchler, director of the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center, also expressed concern about the bill, arguing that the lack of notice for bereavement leave, especially as 12-week leave, would be a hardship for smaller employers.

But Valesky disagreed with the notion that the bill is not business friendly.

“I think this is compassionate and the right thing to do, to help people when they’re really in the greatest need. … I think it’s the role of society to have a statute like this on the books to be able to provide paid family leave,” he said.

Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).