A Final Rule issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) on February 23, 2015 has revised the definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include individuals in legally recognized same-sex and common-law marriages. The new Rule, which takes effect March 27, 2015, looks to the “place of celebration” in determining whether an individual is considered an employee’s “spouse” under the FMLA. Accordingly the FMLA now extends leave rights and job protections to eligible employees in same-sex and common-law marriages entered into in a state where those marriages are legally recognized, regardless of where the employee works or resides.

The DOL’s Final Rule expands upon the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down as unconstitutional a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined “spouse” as a person of the opposite sex.  Following that decision, the DOL initially limited the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA to those in same-sex marriages recognized in their state of residence.  

Now, under the revised definition, a spouse is determined by looking to the “place of celebration”—where the marriage was entered into.  Thus, an employee who enters into a same-sex marriage in a state where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, and thereafter moves to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, will retain his or her rights under the FMLA. The DOL asserts that the revised definition will make FMLA compliance simpler for employers operating in multiple states.

The full text of the Final Rule, along with the DOL’s announcement of the revised definition, can be found here.