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State and Federal Legislatures Expanding Benefits For Working Families

Written by: Charla Bizios Stevens

Article originally published in the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce Newsletter, January 2010

Both the state and federal legislatures have been at work considering laws which expand benefits to employees to allow them to care for family members or to meet their own medical needs.  On October 28, 2009 H.R. 2647, the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act was enacted.  The Act expands upon the FMLA military leave benefits which were just added on January 1, 2008.  The law previously granted up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to certain relatives of members of the national guard or reserves called to active duty.  This benefit, known as exigency leave, is available to employees who need to attend to urgent pre-deployment matters such as making temporary child care arrangements, handling financial or legal matters and undergoing counseling.  Effective immediately the Exigency Leave benefit is expanded to include not only the families of reservists called to duty, but also those of active duty service members. 

The pre-amendment version of the FMLA also provided up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to the next of kin of troops who are injured or become ill during active duty.  The leave could be used to attend to the needs of recuperating service members. The Caregiver Leave provisions have also been expanded to include not only active duty troops injured in service but also veterans undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy for any injury or illness occurring in the line of duty within five years of the leave.    

As with all other provisions of the FMLA, this leave is available to employees who work for companies with 50 or more employees located within a 75 mile radius.  To qualify the individual must have worked for the company for at least one year and have worked 1250 hours in a year.  Employers should update their FMLA policies to reflect these changes. 
Both the state and federal legislatures are also considering several bills which would mandate some form of paid sick leave to employees.  New Hampshire HB 662 would provide at least three days of paid sick leave per year to full and part time employees employed by a company for a minimum of six months.  The leave would be available for an employee’s own illness or routine medical care or care of family members.

The Healthy Families Act, which was introduced last summer in the U.S. Senate, would require employers of 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave to both full and part time employees. Leave could be used for a physical or mental illness of the employee; a doctor’s visit for the employee; or caring for a child, parent, or a spouse or any other individual related by blood or affinity that is the equivalent of a family relationship. 

Perhaps because the Healthy Families Act has been languishing in committee and the H1-N1 virus has spread, the Emergency Influenza Containment Act was just introduced in Congress.  It would provide five paid sick days to workers with contagious diseases in scenarios where the employee was told to go home or asked to stay home by the employer.  This bill also applies to companies employing 15 or more but would expire two years after enactment. 

Charla Bizios Stevens is a shareholder and director in the Employment Law Practice Group at the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A. Charla can be reached at 603-628-1363 or [email protected].  The McLane Law Firm is the largest law firm in the State of New Hampshire, with offices in Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth, as well as Woburn, Massachusetts.

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