WASHINGTON — A new Illinois law would require employers provide up to 30 days unpaid leave to families of reservists and guardsmen called to active duty.

The state is the first to pass such a law. It would apply to the spouses and parents of troops deployed for at least one month, but only kicks in once their vacation time is exhausted.

Eric Schuller, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, said that over the past few years his office has received numerous calls from residents who were suspended or lost their jobs because they needed time off for their spouse’s deployment.

“We had one woman who hadn’t seen her husband in 18 months. She found out on a Thursday he was coming home on Saturday, and her employer told her if she took the day off she’d be fired,” he said.

Military support groups praised the legislation as invaluable to families dealing with the stress of deployment.

“This is for the folks who can’t accumulate more time off, or whose bosses have been less than flexible but they need to keep that job,” said Kathy Moakler, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

“Families have deployment briefs to go to, and family readiness group meetings. Some single parents might need to take Johnny to go live with grandma and grandpa for a while, and there’s new school enrollment and things like that.”

John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, said the law isn’t just a safety net for those families.

“It sends a message to those troops; it shows that state cares,” he said. “We’re seeing governors and state legislators all over really rolling up their sleeves and doing everything they can to help out their guardsmen and reservists.”

Under the law, companies with 50 or fewer employees must grant 15 days of unpaid leave to the eligible employees, while companies with more than 50 would have to make unpaid 30 days available. Workers will have to give two weeks notice before taking more than five days off, but cannot be suspended or fired for taking the time.

Companies with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the bill. The legislation went into effect this week.

Federal legislation similar to the new Illinois law is under consideration. Moakler said she also hopes other states will copy the idea.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the bill into law Sunday at the Illinois State Fair, during celebrations honoring the state’s veterans. He also finalized legislation requiring state insurance companies to cover treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder and creating a new lottery scratch-off game whose profits will go to veterans support programs.

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up