Grieving is more than a commitment

After Tina Lichten’s beloved husband passed away from brain cancer in August 2019, her boss continued to pay her his full salary during a long period of mourning.

“The darkest and worst thing that could happen was happening,” said Lichten, 49, vice president of sales at wholesaler Anonymous Showroom in the Garment District. “Knowing that this person had my back unconditionally no matter what – I don’t think there are words for his compassion, his empathy, for his human heart.”

Company president Chris Joannou also offered ultimate flexibility during caregiving, with Lichten working from her husband’s bedside at night. Occasionally, they would both go to his office together. “I felt very lucky that he had the opportunity to come any day,” she said. “I had no time constraints. It was huge.

After her death, Lichten worked from home, which made it easier for her if she “needed to cry, scream, or walk around,” she said.

Six weeks later, she gradually began to return to the office. “The support is, ‘When you get here, you get here.’ Nothing like ‘You have to be back that day.’ Some days I still struggle to get out of bed. On those days I work from home,” Lichten said. “The grief is always with me. You don’t get over it, you walk through it – it accompanies you side by side.

Joannou does not have a formal bereavement (or caregiving) policy for its employees.

Anonymous Showroom president Chris Joannou (left) allowed Tina Lichten to work from home while she grieved after the death of her husband.
Tamara Beckwith

“Since the day Tina’s husband had his seizure [in 2018] and she had to run away, you go with it,” Joannou said. “When you’re a small business, you go with the flow. You are a family. Just treat people like human beings, that’s all. Today she is in the cemetery. Its good. I know when she gets home she will open her laptop and start working.

Joannou still has no intention of creating a bereavement policy.

“If someone is already dedicated to their work when such a traumatic life change occurs, what are you going to do? Say, ‘You have three days to grieve and then you have to come back?’ Seriously? It is not enough.”

Tina Lichten (right) with her boss Chris Joannou
Chris Joannou (right) refuses to institute an official bereavement policy because three days off is not enough.
Tamara Beckwith

Unfortunately, many companies think that’s enough, and some even require death certificates as proof. The standard policy for US employers is three paid days for grieving employees’ immediate family members and one paid day for other relatives. There is no federal law for bereavement leave – states and employers set policies. A bill proposed by the New York State Senate plans to expand sick leave policies to include bereavement.

Still, “mourning is not an express event,” said R. Benyamin Cirlin, LCSW and executive director of the Center for Loss & Renewal, an Upper West Side psychotherapy and counseling group. “We don’t expect people to get a doctorate in six months. We shouldn’t expect people to know how to live quickly in a new world without a loved one.

Cirlin suggested “informed bereavement leave” to include longer paid leave beyond nuclear families. “A grandparent, a cousin…these losses can be very serious. Working towards a more inclusive definition is important. Innovative employee policies also recognize relationships with the deceased, regardless of blood or marriage. (Although there is no pet policy yet.)

Inclusiveness also encompasses pregnancy loss, which is generally classified differently. Debbie Friedman, labor and employment lawyer at international law firm Cozen O’Connor, said miscarriages are generally considered serious health issues, so an employee may be eligible for furlough. paid sick leave available. Some companies develop policies for pregnancy loss.

“New York also has a law providing temporary disability leave benefits for up to 26 weeks for eligible employees,” Friedman said. This applies to most employers, regardless of size, but does not in itself provide job protection. Because New York is an at-will employment state, employers can terminate employment at any time for any non-discriminatory reason with or without cause or notice, so if your company denies a leave of absence and you take it still, “you risk jeopardizing your work,” Friedman said.

Tina Lichten (right) with her boss Chris Joannou
Chris Joannou has immense faith in Tina Lichten, knowing that she would continue to be productive even after visiting her husband’s grave.
Tamara Beckwith

After experiencing any type of loss, speak to HR. “If there’s no human resources department, talk to your manager or someone else designated to handle time off,” Friedman said.

Navigating grief and job insecurity simultaneously can be overwhelming. Rebecca Soffer, co-founder of Modern Loss, a global community offering content, connections and resources on the long arc of loss, and author of “The Modern Loss Handbook: An Interactive Guide to Moving Through Grief and Building Your Resilience (Running Press), lost her mother in a car accident in 2006. She only took two weeks off from her television production job. “It was barely enough time,” she said. “It was overwhelming.”

Tina Lichten with her cockapoo Teddy.
Years after her husband’s death, Tina Lichten vows to commit to her work at Anonymous Showroom until her retirement.
Tamara Beckwith

Today, Soffer insists that employers establish reasonable bereavement leave policies. “Grief is not one size fits all,” she said. “We are at the beginning of a pandemic of mourning which will last longer than the pandemic. Employees need care for their mental health. This is an opportunity to step up. »

Employers must also grasp the complex and time-consuming life logistics surrounding bereavement, providing mental health support and counselling.

“Immediacy after death is about how you rearrange your life, access funds,” Soffer said. “It’s not just about planning a funeral – it’s about real-life survival.”

Soffer said professional expectations should also adapt. “Maybe the hours of productivity have changed. In the aftermath of death, maybe we don’t evaluate [work] in the first three months. It takes the pressure off a bit. »

When workers are recognized as human beings, connections with empathetic employers can deepen. “When people feel supported, they feel more willing to get involved,” Cirlin said.

For Lichten, who has worked for the anonymous showroom for 11 years, compassion led to a loyal bond.

“I will work there until I retire,” she said.

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