Bill would expand leave for family members

Smith said the bill, HR 3247, gives time off to people not covered by the FMLA, which is limited to people who have worked for their current employer for 12 months or longer, worked more than 1,250 hours in the past year and whose employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

“As a significant number of military spouses work for small businesses, work part-time to balance work and family needs, or have less than one year with a company due to recent moves or reassignments, many are not eligible for protected leave under current law,” Smith said Thursday when his bill was being considered by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel.

Smith said the bill is modeled after Washington and Oregon state laws that took effect in June 2008.

Those testifying at the hearing had only praise for Smith’s bill, but that may be because only veterans service organizations and supporters of pending bills provided testimony. No one representing the businesses that would have to grant time off under Smith’s bill was on hand to offer their views.
Employer concerns

Although businesses are unlikely to openly oppose the idea of helping military families, congressional aides said one concern is that employers might become more reluctant to hire military family members and more likely to let them go if times are tough.

That kind of opposition would not prevent the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee from approving Smith’s bill, but it might prevent the House of Representatives from being able to pass the bill without lengthy debate, which usually does not happen on veterans bills.

Stacy Bannerman, the wife of an Army National Guard sergeant first class, said the bill “would offer protection so that we are able to spend much-needed time with our loved ones immediately prior to, during and after deployment, without fear of losing our jobs or being forced to choose between work and family.”

“When the soldier goes to war, so does the family,” Bannerman said. “When the veteran comes home, family support is the single most critical factor in successful reintegration.”

Tim Embree of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the bill would allow an employer to provide paid or unpaid time off for the two weeks of military leave, and employers would be penalized for not granting the leave.

“This bill will give family members of service members on leave the opportunity to spend time with the service member instead of working during that limited time,” Embree said. “It will also provide a cushion for family members to handle all of the unexpected tasks, errands and responsibilities that surface during a deployment.”

Justin Brown, testifying on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the bill also provides legal guarantees that a family member taking military leave will receive the same benefits, positions and seniority when they return. The bill, he said, “affords to service members and their families precious quality time, which is imperative to their well-being and morale.”

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