All You Need To Know About Military Leave from Work

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck May 14, 2024

Employers in the US, other countries with military leave laws, or with employees who serve in the armed forces, should be aware that their employees may at some point need time off from work to deal with their military obligations.

There are a number of situations where military leave applies, and certain things you need to know about how military leave works, all of which we’ll cover in this article.

Key Takeaways:

  • Military leave is for members of the armed forces, who have obligations related to training or active duty.
  • In the US, most employees are entitled to unpaid time off (and job protection) for military leave.
  • Employees on military leave must be allowed to return to their regular position, seniority and benefits after their leave is over.

What is Military Leave?

Military leave is time away from work given to employees who are a part of their national armed forces.

In the United States, employees can take time off from work to take part in active or inactive military duties, including the following.

Military leave also applies for training, not just when they’re called for active duty.

The leave period may range from a few days to a few weeks, or longer in case of active duty. But in total, military leave can’t exceed five years in the United States.

How Does Military Leave Work?

Military members can be vital assets to your team. They tend to be goal-oriented, they work well on their own, can make decisions when needed, and may already have some leadership training. 

But of course, you need to be ready to deal with their absence from work every now and then. Here are some things to consider for your HR team.

Who is Eligible for Military Leave?

Like we mentioned before, US military members can request leave for any active or inactive duties related to their responsibilities in the armed forces. 

But there’s also military family leave, which refers to the leave because one’s family member is enlisted, or to care for a family member who was injured in military service. We’ll cover this in further detail below.

If you’re based outside the United States, or you have employees in other countries, be sure to research any relevant military leave regulations so you can include them in your time off policy.

Is Notice Necessary for Military Leave?

Yes, employees need to provide notice to their employers before they go on military leave. 

Notice can be written or verbal. You’re not permitted to require written notice.

The notice of absence will typically come from the employees themselves, but it can also come from an officer in your team member’s military branch.

But given that the leave is for military reasons, exceptional situations are possible, and a notice wouldn’t be required in the following scenarios.

Is Military Leave Paid?

Military leave is generally not paid leave, and there are no such legal requirements.

But if you’re in the United States, then USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) requires you to reinstate your employee when they return from duty. 

You must provide the following. 

But beyond what the law requires, you could offer further paid military leave. You could offer full or partial payment when your team member is away on military leave, up to a certain number of days each year. 

Why would you pay more than you’re required to legally?

It can help foster loyalty with your employees, and motivate them to give their all for your company. Being generous with your leave payouts will also help to retain your top talent, who could be vital assets to your team in the future.

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Are There Laws About Military Leave?

In the United States, military leave falls under the regulations as outlined by the USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

When it comes to military family leave, there’s both USERRA and FMLA, which we will cover in the next section. 

But unlike FMLA, which only applies to specific employees that work in locations with 50 or more employees, USERRA applies to all civilian employers that have military team members. 

In other words, military leave laws apply to all employment scenarios regardless of company size, how long the employee has worked there, or how many hours they work each week. 

The law requires the following. 

If your team member is on a leave of absence for 90 days or less, then they must be reinstated to their exact position, along with any scheduled increases in compensation, promotions, and other benefits. 

If someone is gone for longer than 90 days, then the position they get upon return must be very close to what they previously had when it comes to salary, status, and seniority within the company. 

This type of obligation on behalf of the employer is known as re-employment obligation after military leave.

Exceptions for Re-Employment Obligations

You can be exempt from the re-employment obligations under these three exceptional situations.

Employee Responsibility for Re-Employment

Your military employees have some responsibilities as well, if they are to expect re-employment when they return from duty.

What is Military Family Leave?

When it comes to military service, it’s not just the service member that has to sacrifice. It’s also their family.

Families may need to take time off from work to care for an injured service member, or to care for their children when deployed on tour. 

For these reasons, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was amended in 2008 to add the Military Family Leave provisions.

The U.S Dept. of Labor website has a comprehensive guide to the Military Family Leave Provisions in the FMLA. 

But here are some of the key things you need to know as an employer.

Who is Eligible for Military Family Leave?

For your employees to be eligible for Military Family Leave, they must meet the following criteria. 

If all of these criteria are met, then your employees can request the types of Military Family Leave that we will discuss below.

Types of Military Family Leave

Military family members in your team can request the following types of leave if they qualify.

Qualifying Exigency Leave

When a family member gets deployed for military service or called to active duty, one’s life can change significantly. There could be issues to sort out with childcare or other family matters. 

If your employee has a spouse, son, daughter, or parent deployed to a foreign country, then they can request qualifying exigency leave for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. 

Military Caregiver Leave

If your employee has a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who was injured during their service, they can request military caregiver leave. 

Leave can last for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave within a single 12-month period.

Military Leave for Remote Businesses

If you run a remote team with employees in various parts of the world, then you need to consider the military leave laws/requirements in each of those countries.

These are just a few of the countries that require compulsory military service from their citizens. 

These are only a few examples and not a full list. Be sure to check and see if your remote employees (or ones in foreign locations) have military service requirements, and then work those leaves into your time off policy if necessary. 

Further Reading: every type of leave you should consider as part of your company’s leave policy.

Final Thoughts on Military Leave

As a business owner or HR manager, you need to be prepared for all kinds of circumstances. Being called up to the military is one of them.

Your business can’t stop if someone gets called up. The show must go on, which means it might be worth thinking about a military leave policy to make sure you don’t get caught out.

Your military leave policy will cover what happens if your employees request a leave of absence to enlist or serve, how they need to request leave, whether you will continue to pay employees, and what happens when they can return to work.

Serving may be important to some of your employees. Alternatively, your employees may be located somewhere like Austria or South Korea, where military service (even if it’s just inactive duty training) is mandated by law.

Regardless of the reason, if these employees are valuable to your business, and you want to keep them, considering this type of leave may be worthwhile. You should also be aware of the leave laws related to active duty or military service in your location, so you don’t run the risk of any legal issues coming back on you.

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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