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Important Change to the Definition of Spouse for FMLA

The Department of Labor recently released a final rule changing the definition of spouse for purposes of FMLA to include same-sex spouses. This will become effective March 27, 2015. Please note, this change only applies to FMLA and does not impact an ERISA-governed plan’s ability to define spouse for health plan eligibility. A definition of spouse has not been added to ERISA, which means employers are free to continue to define spouse.


Change in Definition of Spouse for FMLA


The new definition allows for a same-sex married couple to be recognized under FMLA, regardless of where they reside, provided the marriage took place in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.


The purpose of this change is to bring FMLA eligibility in line with earlier federal guidance issued by agencies in the wake of the Windsor decision, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and led to federal recognition of same-sex marriages.


What does this change mean for employers? 


This change will allow employees in legal same-sex marriages to take FMLA leave to care for their spouses or family members, regardless of their state of residence. Employers will need to review their FMLA policies and documents to ensure they’ve been updated to be in compliance.


Please contact your client relationship manager if you have questions.


Compliance Corner is being provided as an informational tool. It is recommended that plans consult with their own experts or counsel to review all applicable federal and state legal requirements that may apply to their group health plan. By providing this publication and any attachments, Meritain Health is not exercising discretionary authority over the plan and is not assuming a plan fiduciary role, nor is Meritain Health providing legal advice.