Caution Urged on Expanding Family Leave for Military

By Rita Zeidner Sep 24, 2007

Tidy Up FMLA Before Expanding Military Leave

Before trying to extend time-off benefits for military families, Congress should first address long-standing problems with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a SHRM member has told Congress.

“While the goal of extending the FMLA to cover military families is laudable, SHRM would encourage policy makers to proceed with caution in advancing [certain] proposals in order to limit any unintended consequences for employees, caregivers and employers,” said Christine Vion-Gillespie, an employee relations and compliance manager with the North Carolina-based SAS Institute. Vion-Gillespie represented the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) at a Sept. 18, 2007, hearing before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

Vion-Gillespie said the Department of Labor’s broad interpretation of the law placed employers in an untenable position.

“Almost anything, after three days and a doctor’s visit, now qualifies as a serious medical condition,” she said.

She also said the provisions allowing employees to take spot leave created administrative challenges for businesses.

“It is often difficult to track an employee’s unscheduled, intermittent leave usage, particularly when the employee takes FMLA leave in small increments,” she said.

Unscheduled leave often strains businesses and their staffs when they must cover the absent employee’s workload by reallocating the work to others, she said.

Vion-Gillespie said a proposal to allow military families to take FMLA leave to deal with certain exigencies arising from a call to duty was overly broad. The provision “would appear to authorize leave for a wide range of purposes from providing or arranging child care to coaching a child’s baseball team, to even taking on the spouse’s household chores,” she said.

Vion-Gillespie also criticized the openendedness of a Senate-passed proposal that extends FMLA benefits to military families to up to six months. If signed into law, the provision could lead to additional compliance problems for employers, she said.

Vion-Gillespie noted that companies have other options for easing the burden on military families. Steps taken by her company include:

  • Increasing the amount of time the company will pay workers on active leave to 18 months—up from 12.
  • Allowing employees on military leave to receive health care benefits for a year.
  • Allowing children of employees enrolled in the company’s child care center to remain at the center for the duration of the military leave.

Rita Zeidner is manager of the SHRM Online HR Technology Focus Area.


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