With the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 (NDAA) earlier this week, the new amendments to the FMLA for care of military members are now effective immediately.  For a full text of the FMLA, with the new amendments, the Department of Labor has posted it here.

For a refresher to my prior posts, the Act now permits a "spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin" to take up to 26 workweeks of leave to care for a "member of the Armed Forces, including a member of the National Guard or Reserves, who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness."

Its important to note that the caregiver protection provides more than double what is provided when an employee takes "traditional" FMLA leave.  Employees are entitled to only one 26-week leave period to care for a wounded servicemember during the employee’s employment. The leave may be taken on an intermittent or reduced-schedule basis, but all 26 weeks must be used during a single 12-month period. 

The Act also provides up to 12 weeks of leave for employees who have a family member called up to or engaged in active military duty.  In detail, the Act provides up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave for an employee with a spouse, son, daughter or parent who: (1) is on active duty in the Armed Forces in support of a contingency operation; or (2) has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in the Armed Forces in support of a contingency operation. A "contingency operation" is an action or operation against an opposing military force.

An employee may take active duty leave for "any qualifying exigency" related to the family member’s call-up, and the leave may commence as soon as an individual receives notification of being called to active duty. The term "any qualifying exigency" was not defined, and will likely be clarified in future regulations published by the Department of Labor ("DOL").

Recall too that the normal definitions of the FMLA still apply. Thus, the employer must employ at least 50 part-time or full-time employees for each working day during 20 or more workweeks of the current or previous calendar year to be subject to the statute. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave for example, employees must still have at least 12 months of service with the employer  and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the start date of the leave

Because these changes expand the ways that an employee may be entitled to protected leave, employers should familiarize themselves with the law and also review their obligations under USERRA as well.  Employers can consider updating their policies and procedures and also ensuring that their postings (such as a USERRA DOL poster) are current as well. Notifying human resources of this new law will also be critical to ensuring proper compliance with this law.