• FMLA Coverage for Military Families Expanded Yet Again
  • November 3, 2009 | Authors: Seth T. Ford; Evan H. Pontz
  • Law Firm: Troutman Sanders LLP - Atlanta Office
  • Yesterday, October 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647) (the "Act"). So what does that have to do with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)? Well, this Defense bill includes provisions that expand the FMLA's exigency and caregiver leave provisions for military families that were only recently established in January 2008.

    As you may remember, the January 2008 amendments to the FMLA (also enacted through a Defense bill) provided up to 12 weeks of exigency leave for urgent needs related to family members (spouse, child, or parent) due to the call to service of a member of the National Guard or the Reserve. The January 2008 amendments also provided for up to 26 weeks of unpaid caregiver leave for an employee to care for a family member (spouse, child, parent, or next of kin) who was a member of the armed services, National Guard, or the Reserve, and who was injured while serving on active military duty.

    The Act just signed by President Obama expands the FMLA's exigency leave benefits further to include the urgent needs of family members of active duty service members, rather than just Reservists and members of the National Guard. A qualifying exigency leave results from the service member's call to service and includes short-notice deployment; military events and related activities; child care and school activities; financial and legal arrangements; counseling, rest and recuperation; post-deployment activities; and any other event the employer and employee agree to be a qualifying exigency. The Act also expands the FMLA's caregiver leave provision to include coverage for veterans who are undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy for serious injury or illness that occurred any time during the five years preceding the date of treatment. This latest expansion of the FMLA became effective on October 28, 2009 with the President's signing of the legislation.

    While these changes to the FMLA's military leave provisions may only apply to a relatively small percentage of employees in your workforce, the new coverage provisions will require employers to modify - again - their FMLA policies to ensure full compliance with the law. Likewise, employers need to communicate these changes to management employees and other employees who are involved in administering FMLA leaves and handling other leaves or employee absence issues.