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FMLA Spousal Definition is Halted in Texas and Three Neighboring States

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Back in late February, the Department of Labor revised the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to redefine “spouse” to include married, same-sex partners, regardless of the state in which they reside. The Act expanded the definition to include the “place of celebration”, effectively allowing spouses who had married in states with permissive same-sex marriage laws to enjoy protections from FMLA in states that they reside, and regardless of whether that state recognizes same-sex marriages.

In recent developments, however, enforcement of that rule has been put on hold in a couple of states, which do not recognize same-sex marriage.

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas halted the DOL’s mandate that allows employees to take FMLA leave for their same-sex spouse.

Four Attorney Generals had requested the court impose a preliminary injunction for enforcement of the rule. The DOL capitulated to the court’s decision, and has said at least for now, it will not enforce the states covered by that decision – Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska. The injunction granted by the Texas Court is temporary, and may or may not prevail when appealed to a higher court. (The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear four same-sex marriage cases this later this spring, which may impact this recent development.)

Employers outside of these four states should review their current FMLA policy to ensure that it encompasses all married couples, and employers within that small nexus should stay tuned for future developments involving the temporary injunction. If, or even when, the new definition of spouse is updated in those states, employers should be prepared to update their policies or stand in violation of the law.

Hilary Atkins

Posted In: Legal

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