DOL Updates Definition of Spouse in FMLA Regulations

Originally posted February 24, 2015 by Rick Montgomery, JD on ThinkHR.com.

On June 26, 2013, in U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Immediately following the decision in Windsor, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced what the then-current definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allowed, given the decision: Eligible employees could take leave under the FMLA to care for a same-sex spouse, but only if the employee resided in a state that recognized same-sex marriage. This has been commonly referred to as the “state of residence” rule.

In order to provide FMLA rights to all legally married same-sex couples consistent with the decision in Windsor, the DOL issued a Final Rule on February 25, 2015, revising the definition of spouse under the FMLA. The Final Rule amends the definition of spouse in 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.102 and 825.122(b) to include all individuals in legal marriages, regardless of where they live. More specifically, the definition of spouse is now a husband or wife as defined or recognized in the state where the individual was married (“place of celebration”) rather than where the individual resides, and specifically includes individuals in same-sex and common law marriages. The Final Rule also defines spouse to include a husband or wife in a marriage that was validly entered into outside of the United States if it could have been entered into in at least one state.

The Final Rule goes into effect on March 27, 2015.

To assist employers, the DOL has released a Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions about the Final Rule.

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