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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Family and Medical Leave Gets an Upgrade

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This column often includes news about proposals to curtail federal pay and benefits. This week, however, the government’s announcement of important new benefits to military families and veterans under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act marks a departure from the usual fare.

The families of eligible vets now will have the same FMLA benefits afforded to active-duty caregivers under the law’s expansion. The final rule, announced during a Tuesday ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the law, also applies to service members’ pre-existing injuries or illnesses aggravated during active duty, and increases the amount of time in the “qualifying exigency” category that a family member can take off for a service member’s “rest and recuperation” from five to 15 days.

The rule, which implements changes mandated by the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, also clarifies FMLA benefits and eligibility for airline personnel and flight crews.

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for situations like the birth or adoption of a child; a seriously ill child, spouse or parent; or an employee’s own serious health condition. The fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act allowed eligible family members of service members with a serious injury or illness to take up to 26 weeks of annual FMLA leave to care for their loved ones, and it granted 12 weeks unpaid leave to family members of National Guard or Reserves for “qualifying exigencies” arising from their loved one’s active duty. “This means that workers can attend a spouse’s farewell and welcome home ceremonies without being penalized at work,” said a Labor press release. “They also can spend time with family members on leave from active duty without risking their jobs.”

There are some administrative changes related to how employers calculate and track FMLA leave. The Labor Department estimates that the changes will affect 381,000 firms and government agencies.

Click here for a Labor fact sheet highlighting the FMLA changes.

More Fed Family Leave

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., reintroduced legislation (H.R. 517) that would give all federal employees four weeks of paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

Employees currently can use a combination of paid annual leave, paid sick leave and unpaid leave for childbirth or adoption under FMLA. Federal parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave, and up to 13 days of paid sick leave to care for newborn or adopted children.

In addition to the four weeks of paid leave, the legislation also would allow feds to use any accumulated annual or sick leave to offset the 12 weeks of unpaid leave mandated by FMLA.

The bill's sponsors have been advocating for this benefit for more than a decade. The House previously has passed paid parental leave legislation with bipartisan support, but it typically has languished in the Senate.

“Currently, federal employees must deplete their annual leave and sick time to take time off after the arrival of a child,” Maloney said. “With this bill the federal government can lead the way, make ‘family-friendly’ more than a buzzword, and ensure that both newborns and the government benefit.”

It appears some members of the public agree with Maloney. An online petition to the White House’s “We the People” platform urges the United States to “mandate paid maternity leave.” The petition had 7,846 signatures by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Petitions now need 100,000 signatures to elicit a response from the White House.

Transit Tales

Thanks to all the readers who wrote in with information about how you use (or don’t use) the mass transit benefit for commuters. I have more than enough information at this point! I appreciate you all taking the time to offer your insights and input. I will contact some of you individually for more details. Stay tuned.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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