CHA News Article

DOL Updates FMLA Fact Sheet in Light of DOMA Decision
‘Spouse’ redefined to include same-sex partners

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a revised fact sheet providing guidance to employers on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The updated fact sheet modifies the definition of “spouse” in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, United States v. Windsor. In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The court found that defining marriage to exclude same-sex unions is unconstitutional and violated the equal protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Under FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to take up to 12 work weeks of FMLA leave in a 12-month period to care for a spouse, son, daughter or parent who has a serious health condition – among other qualifying reasons. Prior to the court’s decision, federal law defined “spouse” as an opposite-sex partner. The revised FMLA “Fact Sheet #28F: Qualifying Reasons for Leave under the Family Medical Leave Act” defines “spouse” as follows:

Spouse means a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including “common law” marriage and same-sex marriage.

Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), employees are also entitled to 12 work weeks of leave to care for a spouse as well as a registered domestic partner. Because California defined “spouse” more broadly than federal law, an employee taking time off for a same-sex spouse would be covered under CFRA but not FMLA. The Windsor decision brings these two laws into alignment on the definition of “spouse.” However, there remains differing treatment for registered domestic partners. 

The Windsor decision has other implications as well, which will be discussed at CHA’s annual Labor and Employment Law Seminar to be held in Sacramento on Oct. 29 and in Glendale on Nov. 6.