Federal employees’ leave extended to care for wounded
Stars and Stripes August 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — Federal employees can take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave from their job to care for a servicemember injured in combat under new rules outlined by the White House on Wednesday.
Office of Personnel Management officials said the rules are technically still in the proposal and review stage, but federal agencies have already begun following them based on changes made to the Family and Medical Leave Act earlier this year.
Jerry Mikowicz, deputy assistant director for pay and leave administration, said the goal is to help provide medical and emotional care to a servicemember injured in the line of duty during their recovery. It will also apply to troops who contract a potentially life-threatening disease while serving on active duty.
The unpaid leave applies to troops’ next of kin: a spouse or parent, or even a sibling or cousin who is the closest surviving relative.
The rules do not outline what the care must involve, meaning family members could use the unpaid break to travel to places like Walter Reed Army Medical Center to simply spend time with wounded soldiers while they receive medical care.
“Whatever it is, we want them to be able to provide the care these [servicemembers] need,” Mikowicz said.
“It can be physical care, emotional care, whatever it is.”
Previously federal employees could take 12 weeks a year for care of a wounded servicemember, under the general guidelines for sick relatives under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Mikowicz said the 26 weeks guideline does not affect any sick or vacation time an employee wishes to use, but the unpaid leave can be used only once per injury and must be taken within 12 months of invoking the policy.
House and Senate lawmakers have proposed similar changes to the FMLA in the past.
The unpaid leave rules do not apply to private employers, or to active-duty military personnel.