Department of Labor Updates Definition of Spouse under FMLA Employee Benefits

The Department of Labor has announced the Final Rule revising the regulatory definition of spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) scheduled to become effective March 27, 2015. The definition of spouse will be amended so that eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages will be able to take FMLA employee benefits leave to care for their spouse or family member, regardless of where they live.

Key features of the amendment include:

  • Definition of spouse expressly includes individuals in lawfully recognized same-sex and common law marriages and marriages that were validly entered into outside of the United States if they could have been entered into in at least one state.
  • ‘State of residence’ will be amended to a “place of celebration” which will allow all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, or married under common law, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of where they live.

The definitional change will ensure that spouses in same-sex marriages get the same opportunity to fully exercise their rights under FMLA as all spouses. FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

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