On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) finalized a rule expanding the scope of protections afforded under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to married same-sex couples. The rule follows on the heels of the 2013 United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of “marriage” as consisting only of a union between a man and a woman. The new DOL rule, which will take effect on March 27, 2015, will provide same-sex and opposite-sex couples with equal protections for federal leave under the FMLA.
The FMLA permits eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain enumerated family and medical reasons, including, by way of example, caring for spouses or children with serious health conditions. Under the old FMLA framework, if an employee in a same-sex union resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions, he/she was precluded from FMLA coverage. The DOL’s revised rule replaces this former residence-based test in favor of the “place of celebration” rule. FMLA eligibility will now be dependent on where a couple is married and whether the marriage (same-sex or opposite-sex) is recognized in the state in which it was entered. This new standard will allow for a more uniform, consistent application of the FMLA’s protections across the country, regardless of the state in which a married employee currently resides.