Starting March 27, individuals legally married to people of the same sex will be able to take unpaid time off to care for a sick spouse or other family member even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage.
The final rule issued by the Department of Labor revises the definition of “spouse” in the Family and Medical Leave Act to recognize married same-sex couples regardless of where they live. Until now, the act has covered only couples living in a state that recognized same-sex marriage.
Currently, 37 states plus the District permit same-sex marriages.
“We’re really excited about it,” says Robin Maril, senior legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, of the final rule. The old interpretation “wasn’t fair for employees. It meant they had different federal benefits based on their Zip code.”
The new rule was prompted by President Obama’s instructions to federal agencies to review federal statutes following the 2013 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor. That decision struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that said that a marriage must be between a man and a woman.
The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to care for a spouse or family member for medical or family reasons without losing their jobs. It applies to private-sector companies with 50 or more workers and public-sector agencies and schools of any size.
In addition to legally married same- and opposite-sex couples, the final rule’s revised definition of “spouse” applies to common-law marriages and those that took place outside the United States if they would have met legal standards in at least one state.
“There are many good corporate policies, but companies look to the FMLA” as the mandated standards, Maril says.
This column is produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy organization. To submit a question, go to kaiserhealthnews.org/contact-insuring-your-health/