On June 20, 2014, the Department of Labor announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to revise the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which held section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. The FMLA generally provides that eligible employees are entitled to unpaid leave in order to care for the employee’s spouse, if the spouse (1) has a serious health condition, (2) is a military member deployed to a foreign country; or (3) is undergoing medical treatment related to an injury sustained on active duty. In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the DOL suggests two major changes to the definition of spouse. First, it specifically includes same-sex marriages. Second, it proposes to look where the marriage was entered into, rather than an individual’s state of residence, such that a spouse will be covered by the FMLA if the marriage was entered into in a State that recognized the marriage.
The definition proposed by the DOL is as follows:
Spouse, as defined in the statute, means a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either (1) was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages or, (2) if entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has not yet been published in the Federal Register, but once published, the Notice will provide specific dates for the comment period. Upon publication, interested parties will be invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule to be considered as part of the rulemaking record. If implemented, the proposed rule would allow employees to take FMLA leave related to their same-sex spouse’s serious health condition or military service, even if their state of residence does not recognize their marriage.