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What Employers Need to Know About Military Leave

If an employee is a member of the U.S. military, you may be required to provide military leave if they’re called upon for active duty or another type of military service. Of course, any time an employee leaves for an extended period of time, it can have an impact on your day-to-day operations. That’s why it’s so important for employers to know their obligations when it comes to military leave and other types of leave of absence.

Here's what you need to know about military leave, including how long it lasts, whether it’s paid or unpaid, and what happens when the employee returns to work.

What Is Military Leave?

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to military leave as the type of leave an employee takes from their workplace in order to perform military duties. This applies to all members of the Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Taking leave from a civilian job to perform military service is governed by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which applies to both public and private sector employers of nearly any size.

The term “military leave” can also be used to refer to leave that a member of the Armed Forces takes from military service. Active duty members get 2.5 days of paid leave for each month of military service they perform, up to 30 days of leave per year.

Who Is Eligible for Military Leave?

Members of the National Guard, Army, Marine Corps, and other branches of the Armed Forces may be eligible for military leave for any of the following reasons:

  • Reserve duty
  • Active duty service
  • Active duty training
  • Inactive duty training
  • Other types of military service

The amount of military leave an employee is entitled to depends upon the nature of their military service. A reservist might only need to take a few workdays of military leave per calendar year in order to attend drills or military training. An employee on a tour of duty might need to take military leave for a full calendar year or more.

Eligible employees can make use of their military leave entitlement by giving advance notice to their employer of their upcoming military orders. Employees are disqualified from accessing military leave if they received a dishonorable discharge.

Is Military Leave Paid or Unpaid?

Whether or not military leave is paid or unpaid depends on several factors, including the type of employer and the employer’s military leave policy. Here’s the difference between military leave for public and private-sector employees:

For federal employees

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)’s Fact Sheet, full-time federal employees are eligible for paid leave in the following qualifying scenarios:

  • Up to 15 days per fiscal year for active military duty service or training, or inactive duty training part of a reserve component
  • 22 workdays of per calendar year for a “national emergency” or “in support of a contingency operation”
  • 44 workdays of leave for Reserve and National Guard Technicians performing overseas service
  • Unlimited leave for National Guard members in D.C. for “certain types of duty” under the District of Columbia Code

In the first case, the service member continues to receive all of their civilian pay. In the other cases, their “civilian pay is reduced by the amount of military pay for the days of military leave.” They can choose to take annual leave, sick leave, or personal time off instead of military leave “in order to retain both civilian and military pay.”

For private-sector employees

Private-sector employers aren’t required to pay employees while on military leave, but they may choose to as part of their paid leave policy. They can also choose to pay the employee the difference between their usual salary and their military pay.

If the employee’s military leave starts mid-week, they must be paid a full week’s salary even if they only work part of the week. Employees can’t require the employee to use vacation time or other compensatory time while on military leave.

What Is Military Family Leave?

Military leave: soldier holding his wife's hands

While military leave applies to active and reserve duty service members, other civilian employees may be entitled to a leave of absence related to military service under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This may fall under the category of Military Family Leave or Military Caregiver Leave depending on the circumstances.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, both full-time and part-time employees may be eligible for leave for situations such as: “caring for an injured service member, arranging for alternative childcare when a spouse is deployed to a foreign country, or attending arrival ceremonies when a loved one returns from a deployment.”

Private-sector employers with at least 50 employees must provide this type of leave to employees who meet the eligibility criteria, up to a total of 26 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period. As with military leave, this type of leave is generally unpaid.

Military Leave Tips and Best Practices

Managing military leave requests can be complicated, so follow these best practices to support employees in the military and meet your obligations as an employer:

Avoid discrimination and retaliation

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act isn’t just about military leave. It also prohibits discrimination due to “past, current, or future military obligations.” In other words, honoring USERRA doesn’t begin when an employee submits a military leave request, but at the beginning of the hiring process.

Automate leave of absence requests

Employees who request military leave are required to give advance notice — verbally or in writing — unless the situation makes it unreasonable for them to do so. Make it easy for employees to submit a leave of absence request and upload additional information with Pulpstream’s all-in-one leave of absence management system.

Seek fiscal support if necessary

When an employee takes an extended leave of absence, it can be hard for employers to adapt. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers military reservist loans of up to $2 million for businesses struggling with operating costs as a result of having an “essential employee who is a military reservist called to active duty.”

Ensure a prompt return to work

Employees on military leave have different rights to return to work depending on how long they were away. In all cases, employers must reinstate the employee in the same position they had previously, along with any raises, promotions, and health insurance benefits they would have otherwise received.

For military leave between 1 and 30 days, the employee should be allowed to return to work on the next calendar day. For absences between 31 and 180 days, they have 14 days to apply for reemployment, and 90 days for absences of 180 days or more.

The only exceptions are if the job was temporary to begin with, if the employer would face an “undue hardship,” or if the time away exceeded five years or more.

Streamline Military Leave Requests with Pulpstream

Soldier hugging her husband

Military leave refers to a leave of absence from civilian employment in order to perform military duties, including active duty service and reserve training. Employees may also be eligible for Military Family Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Since military leave can range from a few workdays to a year or more, it’s important for employers to plan ahead and be prepared for military leave requests.

Pulpstream’s cloud-based platform helps you manage leave of absence requests of all kinds, including sick leave, personal leave, and military leave. Employees can submit requests using a self-service portal, and your HR team can quickly approve or deny leave requests and track an employee’s remaining leave balance.

Plus, you can use it to streamline the return-to-work process for employees returning from military leave, caregiver leave, or any other kind of absence.

Request a demo to see Pulpstream in action and learn more!