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FMLA rights expanded for families with relatives serving in military

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WASHINGTON—A Defense Department spending bill that President Obama signed into law last week further expands Family and Medical Leave Act coverage for families who have relatives in the military, effective immediately.

The measure, H.R. 2647, builds on a 2008 law that gave new FMLA rights to military families.

Under the new law, employees will be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave when a spouse, child or parent on active duty is deployed to a foreign country. The 2008 law did not explicitly give a right to FMLA in that situation.

In addition, the new law allows employees to take up to 26 weeks of leave to take care of a child, spouse, parent or next of kin who was discharged from the military and whose military service aggravated a medical condition that existed prior to the service.

While the new law “makes changes around the edges” of the 2008 law and will affect few employees, those changes will be very important to those individuals is does affect, said Matt Morris, a legal consultant with Hewitt Associates Inc. in Lincolnshire, Ill.

The effect of the FMLA expansion since 2008 has varied significantly, with the biggest impact on employers, such as airlines and defense contractors, that have a high number of employees called up for military service, said Ophelia Galindo, national leader, absence and productivity solutions, in the Orange, Calif., office of Buck Consultants L.L.C.

While the latest FMLA expansion is welcome, Congress needs to make additional changes to expand the reach of the law, such as applying the FMLA to employees working for small companies, said Sharyn Tejani, senior policy counsel with the National Partnership for Women & Families. The Washington-based advocacy group promotes policies that help men and women meet the dual demands of work and family.

The FMLA applies to employers with at least 50 employees.