Employers should take notice of Ohio Revised Code Chapter 5906, which became effective on July 2, 2010. This law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to two weeks of unpaid leave to an employee who is the spouse, parent, or a person with legal custody of a uniformed service member called into active duty or injured while on active duty. Under the new Ohio law, employers must allow employees to take leave up to 10 days or 80 hours, whichever is less, once per calendar year. During this time, employers must continue to provide benefits other than salary and wages to employees and, upon their return, restore these employees to the positions they held prior to taking leave with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.
However, employees must first satisfy several conditions and obligations to be eligible for leave. First, employees must have been employed for at least 12 consecutive months and for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the commencement of leave. Second, these employees must not have any other leave available to use except sick leave or disability leave, and the dates on which they take leave must not occur more than two weeks prior to, or one week after, the deployment date of the service member spouse or child. Employees must also provide their employer with at least 14 days notice of their intent to take leave because of a call to active duty and at least two days notice prior to leave taken because of an injury, wound, or hospitalization (but no notice is required if the injury is critical or life-threatening). Finally, employees must supply certification from appropriate military personnel if employers seek to verify their fitness for leave.
Once employees satisfy these conditions, they are entitled to leave under the new law. To ensure that employees are not wrongfully denied leave, the new law places several restraints upon employers. Specifically, employers are prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise or attempted exercise of leave. Employers cannot discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against employees regarding terms and conditions of employment simply because these employees seek to exercise leave rights. Lastly, employers cannot ask employees to waive leave rights or enter into a collective bargaining agreement or employee benefit plan that limits or requires an employee to waive leave rights. Any employer who violates these prohibitions is subject to civil liability for injunctive relief or any other relief that a court finds necessary to secure leave rights.
Because the Ohio law does not contain any geographic restrictions regarding coverage (as the federal law—which requires employees to be within a 75-mile radius—does), Ohio employers should be aware that this law will apply to more employees than similar federal FMLA provisions and, in some instances, may result in employees being entitled to leave under state law even though they have exhausted federal leave entitlement. To ensure proper compliance, employers should familiarize themselves with this law and federal FMLA provisions concerning military family leave. Finally, employers should consult with counsel as compliance concerns arise.