Military Family Expansion of FMLA Fully Implemented

February 6 marked the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the landmark legislation that allows employees to take unpaid leave to care for a new baby or sick family member. In 2009, recognizing the unique challenges that can come with military life, FMLA was expanded to include provisions for military family members. The new provisions were designed to allow military family members to take time to care for a wounded, ill, or injured service member or veteran, or handle issues arising from a service member’s deployment without worrying about losing their jobs.

Recently, to coincide with the anniversary of the FMLA, the Department of Labor issued the final regulations covering the 2009 expansion of the Act, which means that military families will now be able to take full advantage of these new benefits. (The benefit will become available to family members and caregivers of ill or injured veterans on March 8.) This expansion will undoubtedly help many families caring for an injured service member or coping with deployment. However, it is important for military families to understand who is eligible for FMLA and what is covered under Military Family Leave.

In order to qualify for leave under FMLA, an individual must work for a “covered” employer – one with 50 or more employees. (All public agencies, as well as public elementary and secondary schools, are covered under the FMLA). The employee must also have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and have worked 1250 hours over the last 12 months. These restrictions mean that many military family members are not covered under FMLA.

Individuals who work for a covered employer may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to manage issues arising from the deployment of a spouse, parent, or child. Family members of both active duty and National Guard and Reserve service members are eligible for this benefit. Families can use this time to update financial and legal arrangements; attend counseling (or take a child to counseling); attend military events; spend time with the service member during R&R leave; and make child care arrangements.

The law also includes provisions for those who are caring for a wounded service member or veteran. Eligible employees who work for a covered employer may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured service member or veteran. The employee must be the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of the service member.

Determining whether an individual is eligible for military family leave under FMLA can be confusing. To help, the Department of Labor has issued a Military Leave Employee Guide with information about what is covered by Military Family Leave.

The National Military Family Association fought for the expansion of FMLA to benefit military families, and we are pleased by the announcement that the provisions will now be fully implemented. The law will help many military family members balance their jobs with the demands of the military lifestyle. However, it is important to remember that the law only applies to a fraction of military family members. We believe all service members should have the assurance that their family members will be able to care for them in the event of illness or injury without fear of losing their jobs. All military spouses should be able to take time off to attend a homecoming or arrange for child care during a deployment. The military expansion of the FMLA is an important first step in that direction.

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