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Navigating the FMLA, USERRA and Other Employee Leave Laws

What is the FMLA
Military FMLA rules
Creating an FMLA leave request process
What is USERRA
Setting employee leave policies

What is the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides medical and maternity leave rights to eligible employees.

If you're a private employer with 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius or a public employer, you must comply with the FMLA. Under the FMLA, eligible employees are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time each year for the birth of a child, care of a family member with a health condition and other circumstances.

It’s important to note that many states have their own medical leave laws which may apply to smaller businesses, so be sure you’re aware of the rules governing employees in your state, and adjust your employee leave policies accordingly.

Military FMLA rules

In early 2008, President Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law. This Act added new military FMLA rules which extended leave protection to family members of U.S. soldiers. The first expansion of this law since 1993, the new FMLA changes requires employers to provide up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave to the spouses, children or parents of members of the armed forces called to active duty in the U.S. military to care for a service member who is suffering from a major illness or injury.

In addition, the spouses, children or parents of active duty military personnel are entitled to request and receive up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave to deal with a variety of largely undefined “exigencies” connected with their family member’s current or impending deployment.

Creating an FMLA leave request process

Understanding the FMLA laws is the first step to developing an employee leave policy that complies with the Federal and State laws. Make sure your request for leave procedure includes a legally compliant method for documenting and processing civilian and military FMLA leave. Although FMLA leave, like vacation time, is usually requested in advance, most vacation request forms do not gather the more detailed information your company needs to handle Family and Medical Leave Act requests. Make sure you have a uniform and legal way to handle those issues.

It’s important to note that FMLA regulations have nothing to do with your company’s standard sick leave rules. Even employees who are not entitled to any paid time off may be eligible to take a protected, unpaid absence under the FLMA rules.

What is USERRA?

USERRA is a law that protects the jobs of active duty service members. If an employee leaves his or her job to enter the military, or if a military reserve member is called into active duty, the law guarantees that they can later return to their civilian position without loss of benefits, pay rate or seniority when they return home.

In essence, it means that you must rehire returning military personnel if they desire to return to their former positions. The military service is treated as a protected form of leave, although no requirements are made for employers to provide pay or benefits while the service member is absent.

There are some state laws covering similar issues, and some exceptions to the rules of rehiring ex-military employees, so you need to become familiar with USERRA rules before any of your employees are deployed.

Setting employee leave policies

Make sure you know the rules governing employee leave in your state, as well as the federal requirements for protected forms of leave like FMLA and USERRA.

Develop and maintain an employee leave policy that reflects the current regulations for medical, maternity and military leave. Notify your employees about their rights under the law. Be sure to document claims, leave taken and denials to protect your company from fines and lawsuits.

HRdirect has the right tools to help you determine eligibility, administer and document requests, and communicate with employees regarding their rights.