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The DOL Redefines “Spouse” under the FMLA

February 25, 2015

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover employees seeking leave for a same-sex spouse.  The definition no longer is based on state of residence, but on “place of celebration.”  This means that coverage under the FMLA, which provides unpaid, job-protected leave for certain medical, military and family-related reasons, now extends to employees with same-sex spouses even if they live in states that prohibit same-sex marriage, as long as their marriage was legal where it was entered into.  Furthermore, the new definition of spouse expressly includes individuals in lawfully recognized common law marriages and marriages that were validly entered into outside of the United States if they are valid in at least one state. This new definition takes effect on March 27, 2015.

The change reflects the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and President Obama’s related directive to extend the same federal benefits to all same-sex couples who legally marry, even if they live in states with contrary laws.  You can read the Final Rule by clicking here.

Honigman will continue to monitor developments in this area.  If you have any questions about this newly-issued rule or how it will affect your obligations under the FMLA, please contact one of Honigman’s Labor and Employment attorneys