Definition of ‘spouse’ under FMLA to change March 27

Individuals in same-sex marriages will be considered spouses under a regulatory definition of marriage, effective March 27, that will be used to determine eligibility for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.

“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in announcing the rule change Feb. 23.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s final rule on the matter was published in the Federal Register Feb. 25. The new definition applies to people whose marriages—including common law marriages—were considered valid in the jurisdictions in which they were entered into, regardless of where the individuals live at the time of application for leave. Previously, the regulatory definition of spouse did not include same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee’s same-sex marriage. Eligible employees may apply for upaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons—for instance, to provide care for a spouse or family member, including a stepchild or step-parent, who has a serious health condition.

The labor department says the new rule will relieve the administrative burden of employers who operate in several states.

Marriage is extended to same-sex couples in 32 states and the nation’s capital:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois 
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

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