As of March 27, 2015, another change to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will be followed by employers nationwide. There is now a revised definition of “spouse” and it includes same-sex married couples in all 50 states.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a change to the FMLA’s definition of “spouse.” The recent FMLA changes are stated as:
We announced a rule change under the FMLA to make sure that eligible workers in legal, same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, will have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to care for a spouse. We’ve extended that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else.
Since this ruling takes effect soon, employers only have a few more days to prepare their FMLA policies and practices for this important change. Jon Hyman, Partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis advises to take the following actions:
1. Review and, if necessary, amend your FMLA policy and procedures, and all FMLA forms and notices.
If your forms generically speak to an employee’s “spouse,” then there likely is nothing to amend. If, however, your policy, forms, or notices define “spouse,” as the legal relationship between a man and a woman, then you have some work to do to bring your company’s FMLA practices into compliance with the DOL’s very-soon-to-be definition of “spouse.”
2. Your forms are only as good as the personnel who use them.
You must train anyone in the chain of FMLA reporting or decision making about this rule change. An employee cannot be denied FMLA-leave for the serious health condition of his or her spouse. It is no longer relevant that the spouse may be of the same sex as the employee.
Your employees need to understand this rule change so that they do not inadvertently deny FMLA leave to an otherwise eligible employee, and expose you to unnecessary liability. The only way you, as a company, will have any comfort that your employees understand this new definition is if you invest in training to communicate the new rules and to confirm understanding.
3. Remember, the FMLA is a floor, not a ceiling.
This change alters the definition of “spouse” to include legally celebrates marriages in states that recognize same-sex marriages. It does not mean, however, that you cannot further extend your FMLA benefits to include civil unions, domestic partnerships, and other relational statuses that the FMLA does not currently recognize. Employers are always free to provide greater rights than those the FMLA provides as a baseline.
HR, compliance, termination, or compensation questions?
ERC has a team of HR Help Desk Advisors to provide timely and trusted answers.