The federal Department of Labor announced today that it will move to include same-sex marriages under the Federal Medical Leave Act, a decision that will mean more legal protections for families in states like North Carolina that don’t currently recognize gay marriages.
The rule change being sought by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez would bring same-sex marriages under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the law that allows U.S. workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their ill spouses and immediate family members, or care for an adopted child or newborn baby.
“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Perez said, according to a written statement. “Under the proposed revisions, the FMLA will be applied to all families equally, enabling individuals in same-sex marriages to fully exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.”
Same-sex couples that live in states that issue and recognize gay marriages already are covered by the law, and the rule change would extend those rights to the couples in the 31 states like North Carolina that don’t recognize gay marriages.
If adopted, the change would redefine “spouse” in regulations to include couples that get married in states with marriage equality, and not base that definition on the rules of the state where the couple is living.
The Family Medical Leave Act applies to all public employers, and to private employers that have more than 50 employees and aren’t seasonal businesses. Any employee that’s been on the job for more than a year and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the job is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a number of specified reasons, including tending to ill family members or caring for a newly adopted or newborn child.
The rule change could mean a significant shift here in North Carolina, as litigation seeking to overturn North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages continue to make its way through the courts.
Since Amendment One was passed in 2012 and further solidified the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, school districts and local and state governments did not extend FMLA coverage to same-sex couples married in other states.
The proposed rule change, if adopted, would change that and bring all public employees under the federal law and also make most large private employers do the same.
Labor officials are taking comments from the public about the proposed rule change for the next 45 days and then will issue a final decision, which will apply to employers in the entire nation, according to a DOL spokeswoman. Click here to review the rule change, and submit any comments to the labor department.