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Changes to Leave Act Benefit Wounded Warriors, Families

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 – Recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act will extend the period of unpaid, job-protected leave that eligible family members can take to care for wounded warrior spouses, Labor Department officials said.

Legislative amendments to the act signed into law by President Bush provide new entitlements that pertain to military families and enable them to take caregiver leave, officials said.

The Labor Department administers FMLA for private-sector workers. The changes, authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, are slated to be published in the Federal Register Nov. 17.

“This final rule, for the first time, gives America’s military families special job-protected leave rights to care for brave servicemen and women who are wounded or injured, and also helps families of members of the National Guard and reserves manage their affairs when their servicemember is called up for active duty,” Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

“At the same time, the final rule provides needed clarity about general FMLA rights and obligations for both workers and employers,” she said.

One change stipulates that eligible employees who are family members of covered servicemembers can take up to 26 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty on active duty. This change extends the period of available unpaid leave beyond the original 12-week leave period. The new provision was a recommendation of the President’s Commission on Wounded Warriors.

A second family-leave-related amendment to the act makes the normal 12 work weeks of FMLA job-protected leave available to certain family members of National Guardsmen or reservists for qualifying exigencies when servicemembers are on active duty or called to active-duty status.

Qualifying exigencies for which employees can use FMLA leave include:

-- 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

-- Additional activities not encompassed in the other categories by which the employer and employee can agree to the leave.

Another change requires employees to follow their employers' call-in procedures when taking FMLA leave. Previous rules were interpreted that employees could inform employers of taking FMLA leave for up to two full business days after initiating it.

Another rule change allows employers’ human-resource officials, leave administrators or management officials to contact employees’ health care providers to verify information on medical certification forms, so long as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requirements and medical privacy regulations are met.

Established in 1993 under the Labor Department’s jurisdiction, the FMLA originally entitled most federal employees to up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for:

-- The birth of a child of the employee and the care of the child;

-- The placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;

-- The care of a spouse, child or parent of the employee who has a serious health condition; or

-- A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to work.

Contact Author

Biographies:
Elaine L. Chao

Related Sites:
Family and Medical Leave Act
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996



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