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Military Caregivers Get More Time Off

Posted by espressodog on November 13, 2009

hunky male veteranAs of October 29, families of both wounded veterans and active service members can access 26 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their wounded family member. In 2008, Congress approved the first ever expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) extending leave to family members caring for wounded service members or a family member preparing for deployment. This year, Congress expanded the military family leave provision of the FMLA to a more broadly defined category of military family members.

Congress moved with surprising speed this year to pass legislation to expand the situations in which an employee may take military caregiver leave under FMLA. The “Supporting Military Families Act of 2009″ was introduced in the House and Senate in late July. It was then attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010, which passed both houses of Congress and was signed by the President on October 28.

The 2008 expansion of FMLA established two forms of military-related FMLA leave — exigency leave and military caregiver leave. Exigency leave was originally limited to families of National Guard or Reserves members. It is now available to families of all active duty service members. Military caregiver leave was originally limited to families of current service members. It is now available to families of wounded veterans as well. The 2009 expansion also expands the potential period during which FMLA caregiver leave might be provided. Now, eligible employees may take FMLA caregiver leave for up to five years after the veteran ends active duty. This addresses an employees’ need to take leave to care for a veteran whose service-connected injury or illness first manifested itself after the service member became a veteran. These changes are effective immediately

Provisions of the recently passed Supporting Military Families Act include:

  • Employees will be entitled to take military caregiver leave to care for family members who were injured on active duty in the military for up to five years after their separation from military service. Currently, military caregiver leave is available only to care for injured family members who are still in the military.
  • Military caregiver leave will also be allowed when the family member suffered from a preexisting serous injury or illness that was aggravated by his or her active duty service in the military. Under the current U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations, employees aren’t entitled to leave under these circumstances.
  • Employees will be entitled to qualifying exigency leave when a family member who is in the regular armed forces is deployed to a foreign country. Currently, such leave is available only when a family member is called to active duty in the National Guard or military reserves.
  • Qualifying exigency leave will be available when the employee’s family member is a member of the National Guard or military reserves and called to active duty in a foreign country. The requirement that service members be called to active duty “in a foreign country” replaces the current requirement that they be called to active duty “in support of a contingency operation.”

Employers that are covered by the FMLA will need to notify employees of the changes and revise their policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with these new requirements. FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees. The family member taking this form (or any form) of FMLA leave must be an “eligible employee,” meaning that the employee has worked for the employer for at least 12 months, has worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period preceding the leave, and works at a worksite with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the site.

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