DOL Updates FMLA Definition of "spouse"

Workers in legal, same-sex marriages – no matter what state they live in – will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Department of Labor announced this week.

The move updates the FMLA definition of the term ‘spouse’ so that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse, regardless of the state in which the employee resides. “This guidance allows employers to administer [federal] benefits on a consistent basis,” says Lisa Van Fleet, a partner in the employee benefits and executive compensation client service group at law firm Bryan Cave, in St. Louis, Missouri. Van Fleet advises employers to review relevant notices, employee handbooks and policies and update them if needed.

“For FMLA purposes, employers are on solid ground now in using the same rules they use to define ‘spouse’ for tax purposes, qualified plan purposes and health plan purposes,” she says.

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