An Employer’s Guide to FMLA for Military Family Members 

January 18, 2024

Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has supported employees facing significant life events such as injury or illness, providing job protection and unpaid leave. The FMLA also provides specific provisions for military family members, to address the challenges they face from the demands of military service. In this blog post, we’ll go over what employers need to know about the families of military members, the benefits FMLA offers them, and the steps employers can take to support these employees.

What the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is and What It Provides for Military Family Members

The FMLA is a federal law that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specified family and medical reasons. These reasons include the birth or adoption of a child, a serious health condition, caring for a loved one, and certain exigencies arising from a family member’s active military service. (Note: an exigency is an urgent need or demand.)

The FMLA provides two types of leave for military family members: Qualifying Exigency Leave and Military Caregiver Leave.

Qualifying Exigency Leave

If an employee is eligible for the FMLA, and their covered family member is on active duty or called active duty or called to active duty in the National Guard or Reserves in support of a contingency operation, they may be entitled to qualifying exigency leave. Qualifying exigencies can include taking time away from work to attend military events, arrange childcare, manage financial and legal arrangements, attend counseling, and more. If there are urgent life issues arising from a covered military member’s duty, such as being deployed to a foreign country, family members can take job-protected, unpaid leave to manage them.

Military Caregiver Leave

If you have an employee who is eligible for FMLA, and they have a military family member with a serious illness or injury, they are entitled to military caregiver leave. Eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for their ill or injured family member. Military caregiver leave is designed to support family members providing care and assistance to a military member who became ill or injured in the line of duty.

Best Practices for Employers Managing FMLA for Military Family Members

Eligibility and Notification

First and foremost, employers need to know which of their employees who have military family members are qualified for FMLA. Employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, accumulating a minimum of 1,250 hours of service. Employees must also work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. 

HR teams should make sure employees with military families know their rights under FMLA and how to request a leave of absence. This allows employees to notify HR quickly when an urgent need for leave arises. Having a well-planned, streamlined leave process also helps reduce stress for family members who are already dealing with a lot when their family member is either deployed or injured.

Documentation Requirements

As an employer, you can request documentation to support the need for FMLA, especially Military Caregiver Leave. These can include military duty orders, information from medical providers, or other related documents. If your organization uses a secure platform that allows for fax barcoding and self-service portals, employees can quickly and easily get you all the information you need, in one centralized location. 

Communication and Support

Successfully managing FMLA for military family members relies on open and transparent communication. While HR teams should refrain from contacting employees too much during leave, regular check-ins can help employees feel supported during a stressful time in their lives. The right amount of communication during leave can also facilitate a smooth transition back to work, so that managers and others are ready for the employee’s return. 

Understanding Intermittent Leave and FMLA

Military service can be unpredictable. That’s why employers should understand and have a process in place for employees taking FMLA as intermittent leave. Qualifying Exigency Leave can easily need to be taken with short notice and for shorter periods of time, as family members respond to unforeseen events related to military service.

Using Technology to Track and Manage Military Family Leave

Understanding the details of FMLA for military families can be difficult, especially for leave teams with large caseloads. Several states also have their own paid leave programs for families of service members, adding even more eligibilities to calculate and leave to track. An individual family member of an active-duty military can be eligible for different types of leave depending on what is happening – if it’s an injury, deployment, or other life event.

Leave platforms can be a huge help to HR, especially for determining eligibility and track all these potential entitlements. Automation and centralized case management can help leave teams provide a clear, transparent process for employees. Personalized communications at just the right times – and via their preferred communication method, such as text or email – will help employees feel supported and able to focus on their family, not wondering if their request has been approved or what paperwork is needed.

If you’d like to learn more about how leave technology can support employers of military family members, schedule a demo of AbsenceSoft today.