On January 28, 2008, President Bush signed into law the first legislative expansion of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") since its enactment in 1993. The FMLA amendment is part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008, and it expands the scope of FMLA leave in two significant ways.
First, according to the amendment, the FMLA will now permit a "spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin" to take up to 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period to care for a member of the armed forces (which includes the National Guard and Reserves) who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy or is otherwise in out-patient status or on temporary disability retirement for a serious injury or illness. This leave is over twice as long as ordinary FMLA leave, which is capped at 12 weeks per year. This portion of the law is effective immediately.
The second provision of the new law permits an employee to take FMLA leave, up to 12 weeks, for any "qualifying exigency" arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter or parent of the employee is on active duty or has been notified of impending call or order to active duty in the Armed Forces in support of a "contingency operation". This latter provision is not effective until the U.S. Department of Labor issues regulations defining exactly what a "qualifying exigency" is. However, the Department of Labor is recommending and encouraging employers to provide this type of leave for qualifying employees when necessary. Employers should be immediately aware of this new amendment to the FMLA.
If you need guidance on complying with the new provisions, the Labor and Employment Group is happy to assist you in updating your FMLA policies.