Review & Update HR & Benefit Practices For DOL Proposed Change In FMLA Regs, Other Rules Treating Some Same-Sex Couples As Spouses


August 11, 2014 is the deadline for employers and other interested individuals to comment on the  U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL) June 27, 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which would amend the definition of spouse under the current Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) regulations in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which ruled unconstitutional section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The proposed change is one of a series of regulatory changes that the Obama Administration has proposed or adopted since the Windsor decision.

DOL intends that the NPRM will replace the current definition of “spouse” its current FMLA regulations so that eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages will be able to take FMLA leave to care for their spouse or family member, regardless of where they live.

To accomplish this, the NPRM proposes to revise the current definition of spouse in the current FMLA regulations to define spouse 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.

Among other things, this change will:

  • Replace the current “state of residence” rule with a rule that determines spousal status based on where the marriage was entered into (sometimes referred to as “place of celebration”) rule for determining marital status;
  • Revise the definition of spouse expressly to reference same-sex marriages in addition to common law marriages, and to encompass same-sex marriages entered into abroad that could have been entered into in at least one State.

The expanded definition of spouse will broaden the range of couples that employers and plans may be required to treat as spouses for purposes of the FMLA.  This expansion also may result in the extension of rights with respect to parents or children of a same-sex partner for certain employment or employee benefit purposes.  While the historical determination of parental relationships under the FMLA regulations based on a functional, rather than legalistic, test means that the proposed change will likely have less significance in this regard, employers and plans still should evaluate the potential implications of the expanded definition of spouse on its responsibilities with respect to the employees, their same-sex partners and the parents and children of the same-sex partners.

Also, many employers and employee benefit plans may be concerned about proposed language in the NPRM and other regulations requiring employers to decide if a marriage not valid in the United States could have been valid if performed within the United States.  Likewise, as the number of states where same-sex partners can qualify as spouses continues to evolve as courts and legislatures act to require recognition of these relationships, many employers and plans may feel legitimate concerns about the operational demands of administering their human resources and employee benefit plans and policies with respect to individuals involved in same-sex relationships where the legal status of the relationship may evolve due to changes of law, creating responsibilities for the employer or plan with respect to relationships that it may not know exist or the status of which may change subsequent to a determination of marital status or other relevant decision.  Employers and employee benefit plans should consider adopting practices to address these challenges to minimize the risk of incurring liability as a result of an oversight resulting from evolving status.

 For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising employers, health plan and other employee benefit, insurance, financial services, health and other business clients about these and other matters.   As a part of this involvement, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising employers, employee benefit plans, insurers, health care providers and others about the implications of DOMA and other rules impacting the identification of spouses and other family status protections under the FMLA and other Federal and state employment, tax, health care and other laws.  She publishes and speaks extensively on these and other staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, health care, privacy, public policy, and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update here including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Limited, non-exclusive right to republished granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.

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