Federal Military Leave Laws

Here are some basic questions and answers about federal military leave laws and your obligations to employees who have employees engaged in military service.

Which employees are eligible for military leave? Any employee who is called to military service, training, reserve duty, etc., who is not a temporary employee is covered by the federal law. That includes employees on probationary status and employees who have been with their employer for only a few days.

Are employees required to give advance notice to employers of military leave? The answer is generally "yes." Notice may be either written or oral and may be provided by the employee or the military. However, no notice is required if military necessity prevents it or the giving of notice is otherwise impossible or unreasonable.

Are you required to grant employees leave for active duty military leave? According to the federal law, you are. Although the leave may be without pay for private employers, the employee must be reinstated to the position held before taking military leave upon successful completion of active military duty.

Active duty leave is usually for an undetermined but potentially long period of time and is occasioned by a state or national emergency, state of war, or actual war. Active duty may also be required for certain military training programs. Active duty leave must be granted for voluntary or involuntary service.

In addition to active duty leave, the law mandates that you grant annual leave to attend reserve or national guard encampment, maneuvers, drills, training, or any other duty of a short-term nature.

Do you have to pay your employees while they are engaged in military service? Generally, only public employers are required to pay for any part of military leave. Private employers may grant annual leave with or without pay and may pay for all or part of the leave. In the case of active duty leave, the employer may adopt a policy of paying the difference between civilian pay and military pay.

What employers may not do, in most cases, is charge military leave to annual vacation leave. Military leave is intended to be in addition to any annual vacation. The employee may, however, choose to use paid vacation time where military leave is not paid.

What about benefits? Any benefits or employment rights that you provide to employees who are on leave of absence for reasons other than military leave must be provided to employees who are on military leave. For example, if you continue to contribute to the cost of benefits for employees and their dependents while the employees are on maternity leave, employees on military leave should be given the same coverage, unless military coverage becomes the primary coverage. Further, employees on military leave should not be discharged and then rehired upon return from active duty if other leave policies do not have a similar requirement.

What happens when employees come back? Employees who return from military leave must be reinstated to the position they left to take leave or a similar position. This may mean displacing an employee who had been brought in or shifted to cover the absent employee's work when the employee returns from leave.

In many cases, especially when the employee has been away on active duty for a fairly long period of time, in order to be reinstated the employee must be honorably discharged, must be able to perform the job, and must notify you of the intent to return to work.

Need more help? The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is an agency within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs that provides a wealth of related information on their website.