Rights Extended for Same-Sex Couples
Greetings from the Land of the Never Ending Winter where the blog time temperature of 12 degrees is a sure sign that Spring is right around the corner.
The US Department of Labor took an important step for same-sex couples on Monday when it released final regulations changing the definition of a spouse under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA generally provides employees working in places with more than 50 employees with the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a spouse or other dependent. Under existing regulations, the determination of whether or not a person is married is based on the laws of the state in which the employee currently resides. So, for example, an employee’s marriage to a same-sex partner in New York, while perfectly legal in the Empire State, would not qualify that employee for FMLA benefits if he or she is a resident of Michigan, where same-sex marriages have not yet been recognized. Monday’s announcement means that FMLA eligibility will now be based on the laws of the state in which the marriage took place. In other words, the DOL’s new regulation will instead extend spousal recognition to any individual married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
This proposed change will probably have its most practical benefits for credit unions that have employees in multiple states. Incidentally, a case is currently pending before the Supreme Court in which the Court will directly address whether state law bans on same-sex marriage violate the federal constitution (DeBoer v. Snyder, No. 14-571, 2015). The changes announced Monday take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. As I’ve explained in this blog in the past, I am not an HR expert and this is particularly true when aspects of employee benefits are being discussed. If you think the DOL changes could impact your credit union’s operations, please follow up with your HR attorney or expert.
By the way, I have never seen such a radical shift in public attitude toward a divisive social issue than I have with regard to same-sex marriage. Think of it: as late as October of 2008, President Obama would not come out in favor of same-sex marriage and only three states, Connecticut, California and Massachusetts, recognized these unions. According to the preamble of the regulation, as of February 13, 2015, 32 states and the District of Columbia have extended the right to marry to both same-sex and opposite sex couples.