On Monday, President Bush signed a Defense Department spending bill that contains the first statutory amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) since its enactment in 1993. The amendments create new rights for certain relatives of members of the armed services. First, the new law allows spouses, parents and children to take 12-week FMLA leave for issues arising from that relative’s activation for National Guard or Reservist duty. Second, relatives of injured service members can take a one-time 26-week FMLA leave to provide care. This leave entitlement also applies to “next of kin” in addition to the family members currently authorized under the FMLA to take companionship leave.
The injured service member provisions take immediate effect. The extension of leave rights for relatives of activated National Guard and Reservists will take effect as soon as the Department of Labor issues regulations intended to define qualifying circumstances for such leave. Employers should immediately begin granting FMLA leave for the purpose of caring for an injured service member. FMLA policies will need to be amended to provide for these changes.