Understanding the military family leave under FMLA

By Kate Horrell,

If you’re a military spouse, and you are employed, you should get to know the Military Family Leave provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA.)  These provisions may give  you with  time off work to deal with deployment related issues, or to care for a serious ill or injured service member or veteran.  Understanding Military Family Leave, as provided for under FMLA, will ensure that you’re receiving the appropriate unpaid, job-protected leave as mandated under federal law.

There are two types of covered Military Family Leave:

  • Qualifying Exigency Leave, designed to allow the employee to deal with deployment-related issues, and
  • Military Caregiver Leave, designed to allow the employee to care for a seriously ill or injured service member or veteran.

Because this is a huge topic, this post only deals with the Qualifying Exigency Leave portion of Military Family Leave.

Who can use the Family Medical Leave Act?

Since the Military Family Leave rules fall under the FMLA, you must first be eligible for FMLA before you can be eligible for Military Family Leave.   You must meet all these criteria:

  • Work for a private employer with more than 50 employees, or a government agency (local, state, or federal), or an elementary or secondary school.
  • Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months.
  • Have worked at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months.
  • Work at a location that has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your work site.

Who can use qualifying exigency leave?

The spouse, parent, son or daughter of the military member may use qualifying exigency leave.

The service member, who may be active duty, National Guard, or reserves, must be facing imminent deployment to a location outside of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any Territory or possession of the United States, including international waters.

What reasons qualify for leave?

There are eight general groups of qualifying activities.  The individual activity does not necessarily have to be listed to qualify, but it must meet the general category.

Short-Notice Deployments

To resolve issues relating to a short-notice deployment, where the service member has less than seven days between the notice of deployment and the beginning of the deployment.

Legal, Financial and Administrative

To attend to legal, financial, or administrative preparations for a deployment.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • updating legal documents such as Powers of Attorney,
  • going to banks to add names to accounts,
  • changing titles to vehicles.
  • To attend mental health counseling for the family member, spouse, or child, if the need for mental health counseling is directly related to the deployment.
Deployment Activities

To attend deployment-related military activities.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • pre-deployment briefs,
  • family support programs, and
  • ceremonial events.

To resolve childcare and related issues that are directly related to the deployment.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • setting up alternate or additional child care,
  • enrolling the child with a new child care provider,
  • enrolling the child in a new school, or
  • meeting with the child care provider or school to discuss deployment-related issues.
Parent Care

To resolve urgent issues relating to the care of the service member’s parent, who is incapable of caring for his or her self.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • arranging a new care plan,
  • hiring and managing care staff,
  • admitting the parent into a new care facility, or
  • meeting with a care facility.
Return from Deployment

To attend post-deployment military activities, extending up to 90 days after the end of the deployment.  This may include, but is not limited to:

  • reintegration briefs,
  • family support programs,
  • homecoming events, and
  • official ceremonies.

Military Family Leave provides for up to 15 days of leave to be taken at the time of the service member’s Rest and Recuperation (R&R) leave.


Military Family Leave may also be used for a non-listed purpose, with the agreement of the employer and the employee.

What documentation is required?

Your employer is permitted to ask for a variety of documentation to validate the need for exigency leave. They may ask about the amount and frequency of leave anticipated.  They may also ask for the following:

  • verification of the deployment, which may include deployment orders.
  • information about the type of event that requires the leave.  For example, you may be asked to provide information about the date, time, and location of your appointment to go to legal to have your Powers of Attorney updated.
  • contact information for any third-party with whom business is being transacted, such as the name, address, telephone number, and email address for the bank employee who helps you change names on bank accounts.

The employer is permitted to verify the facts of the event, such as calling a school to verify a meeting.

Will I get paid?

Military Family Leave is unpaid leave.  Your employer may allow you to use it together with sick time, vacation time, or personal time.  If you have paid leave available, your employer may require you to use it during Military Family Leave.

Your health insurance will not be impacted by the use of Military Family Leave.  You are required to continue paying the necessary premiums to keep the insurance in force.

I thought I could get more leave

This is the federal law. Your state may have more generous provisions for military leave.

Military Family Leave is a great benefit that can help military families balance the challenges that come with deployments.  Understanding what is covered can help make the use of Military Family Leave smooth for both the employer and the employee.

More at