HR Management & Compliance

Congress Expands FMLA’s Military Family Leave Provisions

Congress has moved with surprising speed in passing legislation to expand the situations in which an employee may take military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The “Supporting Military Families Act of 2009” was only introduced in the House and Senate in late July. Now it has been tacked on to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010, which has been approved in both houses of Congress and sent to President Barack Obama. He is expected to sign the legislation.

The Supporting Military Families Act enacts several major changes to the military family leave provisions of the FMLA:

  • 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 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.”

The legislation does not include an effective date, which means that it will be effective immediately upon the president’s signature. Employers that are covered by the FMLA will need to (1) notify employees of the changes and (2) revise their policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with these new requirements.


Keep up with the latest developments in the FMLA and other federal employment laws with Federal Employment Law Insider. You can also get comprehensive compliance information in the FMLA Compliance Manual, which includes a quarterly newsletter with updated information on the Family and Medical Leave Act.

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