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FMLA leave extended to legally wed same-sex couples

FMLA leave extended to legally wed same-sex couples

Legally wed same-sex couples are now eligible for family emergency leave benefits, according to an internal memo sent Friday to staff members at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department has updated several of its guidance documents regarding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court's June 26 ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited federal agencies from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.

In his memo to department staffers, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said references to DOMA have been removed from FMLA guidance documents and affirmed the availability of spousal leave benefits for legally married same-sex couples.

Under the revised regulations, married gay and lesbian couples’ eligibility for FMLA benefits will depend on their state of residence, according to an updated fact sheet posted to the department’s website. The regulations apply to all private and public employers and workers, including state and federal agencies.

“The Supreme Court's recent decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to legally married, same-sex couples, represents a historic step toward equality for all American families,” Mr. Perez said in the memo, adding that the Labor Department is looking for “every opportunity to ensure that we are implementing this decision in a way that provides the maximum protection for workers and their families.”

“This is one of many steps the department will be taking over the coming months to implement the Supreme Court's decision,” Mr. Perez said in the memo.


The Labor Department's revisions are the first signal from federal regulators as to how the Supreme Court's decision will impact private employers and their employees, particularly in matters relating to expanded eligibility for benefits. The Office of Personnel Management in July announced that all federal employees and their nondependent spouses are eligible for certain employment benefits — including health care, group life, dental, vision and long-term care insurance — regardless of their state of residence as long as they possess a valid marriage license.

After OPM's announcement, the American Benefits Council published a letter urging regulators to adopt similar “state of celebration” rules regarding any mandated expansion of private employers' coverage obligations to their employees' spouses.

“A uniform rule is necessary to ensure that the ongoing sponsorship and maintenance of employee benefit plans is not unduly complex or costly, therefore allowing American workers and their spouses broad access to a full range of benefits,” the ABC's letter said.

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