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FMLA Expansions Defend the Rights of Military Families

Military personnel make incredible sacrifices to defend our country. Now, recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensure that the rights of their family members are defended just as strongly. New legislation allows military spouses, parents and children to take unpaid, job-protected leave to support their loved one before, during or after deployment.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Labor marked the 20th anniversary of FMLA by implementing two expansions of FMLA protection in regards to military families. Under the new regulations, families of eligible veterans facing illness or injury receive the same job-protected FMLA leave as family members of current military personnel. In addition, family members can take up to 26 weeks of leave to care for a service member who is injured and up to 12 weeks to handle family matters when an individual is deployed or returns home from duty.

How the amendments protect service members and their families

The new amendments to FMLA demonstrate that government and the corporate world are better understanding that the sacrifices of service members extend to their family members as well.  Military family members are often stationed far from their loved ones, and the trials of deployment rest solely on their shoulders. The provisions implemented in 2013 are significant for two reasons:

  • Leave for illness or injury – If a service member is injured in the line of duty or has an existing condition that is aggravated during active duty, that soldier’s spouse, parent or child can take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave to care for their loved one during medical treatment and rehabilitation. In addition, depending on the provision’s restrictions, families of veterans can receive the same coverage if the service member incurred an illness or injury on active duty that manifested itself after he or she became a veteran.
  • Leave for activities associated with deployment – A short-notice deployment for those involved in active duty, the National Guard or Reserves can shake up a military family. In the days and weeks before a service member is deployed, spouses or parents must often coordinate schedules, handle financial arrangements and find childcare, not to mention spend quality time together as a family and attend farewell ceremonies. Just as important, the employment rights of family members must be protected when reconnecting with a service member when he or she returns home, whether it’s a temporary or permanent leave. Through FMLA’s new qualifying exigency leave provisions, eligible employees can take up to 12 total weeks of leave to support their solider.

In a release from the Department of Labor, acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris remarked, “Enabling our military families to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their job and to actively participate in deployment, reunification and recovery reflects our deeper understanding of the role family members have in sustaining an all-volunteer force. Today’s rule makes clear this administration’s strong, ongoing commitment to respond to the needs and sacrifices of our military families.”

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