There’s been a new ruling by the United States Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) regarding the individuals protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Described as groundbreaking, the rule change grants couples in legal, same-sex marriages the same FMLA rights as those in opposite-sex marriages.
What the New FMLA Rule Does
On February 23, 2015, the DOL announced a rule change to the FMLA following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor. That ruling struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act provision defining marriage and spouse to be limited to opposite-sex marriage under federal law.
Taking effect March 27, 2015, the FMLA rule change redefines spouse for FMLA to mean an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage. Eligible employees will soon be able to take FMLA leave for a spouse regardless of the state they live in. Previously, the regulatory definition of spouse did not include same-sex spouses of employees living in a state that did not recognize the same-sex marriage.
The new rule grants eligibility for federal FMLA protections based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into, per place of celebration provision, and allows all legally married couples, opposite sex and same sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of state law.
What Does the Rule Mean for Employers?
The new rule means employers with more than 50 employees must allow eligible employees FMLA leave to care for sick spouses regardless of whether they are in legal opposite-sex or legal same-sex marriages and regardless of whether they live in states that currently do not recognize same-sex marriages.
Employers should train leave administrators and supervisors on the new rule and review and update FMLA policies and procedures, forms, and notices by March 27th. They should remember that the new rule applies to legally married employees. It does not protect civil unions or domestic partnerships.
The DOL issued FAQs on the new rule, which will help employers understand the changes. A copy of the DOL’s final rule and related comments can be accessed here, and the DOL’s fact sheet on this rule can be accessed here.