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Employees who have family members serving in the armed forces will have new expanded rights under Section 565 of the recently-enacted National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.  This provision further amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was amended only a year ago to allow leave to care for family members with needs relating to military service.

The first new provision expands the right to “exigency” leave to family members of active duty service members.  Under last year’s amendments, only family members of reserve service members were eligible for such leave.  The FMLA now allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year to deal with specified issues related to overseas military service by a family member (defined as a spouse, son, daughter, or parent).  Examples include arranging child care, making financial and legal arrangements, and counseling.

The second new provision expands the right of employees to take up to 26 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member with a serious injury or illness incurred as a result of military service.  Under last year’s amendments, only employees who had a family member (defined as a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin) in active duty could take such leave.  The FMLA now allows family members of veterans to take such leave, as long as the veteran was in active service during the five years previous to the date on which he or she needs care.

The new leave entitlements became effective on October 28, 2009.  Employers should take immediate steps to update their leave policies, forms, and procedures to ensure compliance.  We can help.