On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution “requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” The Court’s decision also expands the application of many state and federal laws that grant rights to spouses, including the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
I know what you’re thinking . . . I just updated my policy to comply with the Department of Labor’s Final Rule regarding the definition of “spouse,” do I need to update it again? Answer: Yep.
In March, 2015, the Department of Labor had issued a Final Rule changing the definition of “spouse” to be determined by the place in which the marriage was entered into (referred to as the “place of celebration”), as opposed to the law of the state in which the employee resides (“place of residence”). The Final Rule’s definition of “spouse” also included individuals in lawfully recognized same-sex and common law marriages and marriages that were validly entered into outside of the United States if they could have been entered into in at least one state.
The Supreme Court’s landmark decision makes same-sex marriage lawful in all states nationwide, so employers making FMLA eligibility determinations no longer need to base their decision on state law. All married couples, regardless of where they live or the state in which they were married, are now covered by the definition of “spouse.”
Employer takeaway? Whether you recently updated your FMLA policy, or did not, now it’s time to update your policies and benefit plans, train your supervisors, and consult with experienced employment counsel on the effect of this decision on other policies and benefits offered by your company.