Home > Federal Employment Law - USDOL > Same Sex Spouses are Now Entitled to FMLA Leave

Same Sex Spouses are Now Entitled to FMLA Leave

September 5, 2013

Attorney Maura MaloneBy: Maura Malone

In June, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in United States v. Windsor which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and cleared the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

To comply with the Supreme Court’s decision, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has now revised previously issued guidances on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and expanded FMLA coverage to legally married same-sex couples.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employees had not taken leave. Prior to the DOL’s revisions, although same-sex couples could take FMLA leave to care for or bond with a child, they were not entitled to FMLA leave to care for a same-sex spouse.

The DOL’s revisions delete references to DOMA from its FMLA guidances and clarify that under the FMLA, the term “spouse” means:

. . . a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including “common law” marriage and same-sex marriage.

Because the definition of “spouse” is tied to the definition of marriage in the state where the employee resides, FMLA spousal rights do not apply to employees whose same-sex marriage is not recognized by the state in which they live.

As a result of the DOL’s revisions, employers with employees in states which recognize same-sex marriage should ensure that their FMLA policies and practices provide for leave to an employee whose same-sex spouse requires care.

Employers should contact a member of the Employment Group with any questions related to FMLA benefits for employees in a same-sex marriage.