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Amendments to Family and Medical Leave Act Help Military Families

In late October, President Obama signed into law new protections for families of military personnel who need to take leave from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). The new protections expand on changes implemented less than a year ago which required certain employers to provide unpaid leave for qualifying family members of military personnel.

Under the FMLA, an employee may take leave because of a qualifying exigency that is a consequence of his spouse, son, daughter, or parent being called to active military duty. Such exigencies include the need to arrange for alternative childcare, to attend official military ceremonies, to make legal and financial arrangements, and to attend counseling. Prior to the new amendments, only employees whose family members were in the Reserves or the National Guard could qualify for this leave. Under the new FMLA amendments, employees whose family members are in the regular Armed Forces may take leave for these exigencies when the family member is deployed to a foreign country.

An employee may take leave to care for a servicemember with a serious injury or illness that he incurred while on active duty. Before the recent amendments to the FMLA, only family members of current members of the Armed Forces (including the National Guard and Reserves) could take this leave. The amendments have now expanded the FMLA to cover the family of veterans, so long as the veteran was a member of the Armed Forces at some point during the five year period before he began seeking treatment for his serious injury or illness. The amendments also expanded the definition of serious injury or illness to include conditions that predate a servicemember’s active duty if active duty aggravated the condition.