In the ever-changing and fast paced professional world we work in, one thing we must always be aware of is how our polices and procedures reflect the constantly evolving culture we live in. Federal and State labor and employment law is therefore, always changing and being updated to adapt and change to mirror these factors.  

On February 25, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued their final ruling which modified the definition of a “spouse” under the FMLA. Previously, a “spouse” was defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized. 

Effective March 27, 2015, the definition of “spouse” means “a husband or wife” and will no longer be dependent on an employee’s state of residence. Rather, the new definition refers to where the marriage was entered into, as recognized by the State in which the marriage took place. The new definition will include same-sex marriages, in addition to common law marriages that were entered into abroad that could have been entered into in at least one state. 

In a nutshell, this means that same-sex spouses are now recognized as a family member in terms of taking time off to care for a sick family member under the FMLA. The DOL stated that any eligible employee, regardless of location, will be able to take:

  • A FMLA leave of absence to care for their lawfully married same-sex spouse with a serious health condition;
  • A qualifying emergency leave due to their lawfully married same-sex spouse’s covered military service; or
  • Serve as a military caregiver for their lawfully married same-sex spouse.

If your organization meets the qualifications for granting eligible employees leave under the FMLA, now is the time to review and update documentation (such as employee handbooks and policy manuals, and leave documentation and forms) accordingly to reflect this change.