Under a provision tucked into a broader Defense Department authorization measure, H.R. 4986, leave for close relatives of employees on active duty or called up for military service in support of a contingency operation could be taken for any “exigency,” as defined by regulations.
That expansion would be the first since Congress passed the FMLA 15 years ago this month. The act requires employers to offer employees up to 12 weeks of annual leave after the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a child, parent or spouse who has a serious health condition, or when an employee has a serious illness.
Additionally, the legislation, which the Senate passed Tuesday on a 91-3 vote after the House cleared the measure in December, would allow employees to take up to 26 weeks of leave under the FMLA—up from the current 12-week annual maximum—to take care of a child, parent or spouse who incurred an injury during military service when that injury results in the service member being unable to perform his or her duties.
The FMLA expansion would go into effect as soon as President Bush signs the legislation, which is expected. That will mean affected employers will have to change their FMLA policies immediately and communicate the changes to employees.
“This is a rather big deal. You have to be ready to deal with this,” says Fran Bruno, an attorney with Mercer LLC in Washington.