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FMLA definition now includes same-sex couples

People in Wisconsin might be interested to learn of the recent Department of Labor announcement that same-sex married couples will now enjoy the same protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act as do heterosexual couples. With the update in guidelines, same-sex couples will now be able to take leave to care for a sick spouse, including those living in states that do not recognize the institution.

It is believed that many employers, especially those with locations in numerous states, will benefit from the change as it will streamline how the FMLA is implemented organization-wide. Previously, FMLA leave was not granted to legally married same-sex couples who were living in a state that did not recognize their union, leaving employers a patchwork approach to how leave was administered.

The change is in line with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 in which a similar provision was struck down in the Defense of Marriage Act. Employers will need to be proactive, changing policies and educating all managers to ensure that the new law is appropriately implemented.

The change means that workers who work for employers that are covered by the FMLA and who are in same-sex marriages will now be able to take unpaid leave when their spouse's health necessitates it. An eligible worker whose request for such leave is denied may want to seek a consultation with an attorney who has experience in employment law matters. Such an attorney can make a determination as to the remedies that may be available, including the filing of a claim with the appropriate agency.

Source: Human Resource Executive Online, "FMLA Redefines the Family Relationship", Mark McGraw, March 11, 2015.

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