Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly 700 Minnesota National Guard members to deploy to Liberia this spring to help fight the Ebola epidemic. The citizen-soldiers are scheduled to start training in March with an estimated six-month deployment to Liberia starting in April.
In light of the order, companies that employ National Guard members or their family members should refresh their knowledge of the many federal and state laws regarding military leave.
Minnesota employers must allow unpaid leave for an employee who is a member of the National Guard and is engaged in active service in time of emergency. Although the statute creating this obligation does not define “time of emergency,” the circumstances in Liberia, with a current death count due to the Ebola virus at 2,812, likely qualifies.
Federal law also protects employees’ rights to workplace leave for service in the National Guard. Under the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employers may not discriminate against anyone who is a member of or applies to be a member of the National Guard. USERRA also provides reemployment rights to returning military personnel in certain situations.
In addition to these leave laws protecting National Guard members, federal and state laws protect their family members’ rights to unpaid leave in certain circumstances. For example, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Minnesota law generally require that employers grant a certain amount of unpaid leave to an immediate family member of a National Guard member to attend a send-off or homecoming ceremony. The FMLA also protects leave for family members who need to care for a National Guard member with a serious injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated while on duty.
Employers should not only keep abreast of leave laws, but also the workplace implications of employees or their family members returning from regions affected by the Ebola virus. To adequately prepare for the unique circumstances presented by the Ebola threat, consider utilizing the following materials:
- Ebola Virus Disease Labor & Employment Guidance
- Sample Ebola Response Policy
- List of Resources on the Ebola Virus Disease
Should you need further guidance, please call one of the resources below.
Partner, Labor and Employment Department Head
Bobbi A.L. Leonard