Until 1993, there was no law that protected workers from having to choose between their jobs and their health – or the welfare of family members who needed their care. The Family and Medical Leave Act changed that, by allowing covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without getting fired. This law provided greater protection and flexibility to America’s workers, and the Wage and Hour Division has been proud to uphold it for the past 20 years.
But our agency doesn’t just enforce the law. We also provide guidance to employees and employers, to make sure they understand their rights and responsibilities. Earlier this week, the Wage and Hour Division made a few revisions to some of our guidance documents that reflect changes to our enforcement of the FMLA in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor.
These updates remove all references to the Defense of Marriage Act’s provisions that denied federal benefits to legally married, same-sex couples. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision U.S. v. Windsor, the updates clarify the definition of “spouse” for Title I of the FMLA, which applies to covered private-sector employers and any covered public agency. The updated documents can be viewed at these links:
- Fact Sheet 28F
- FMLA PowerPoint (slide 12)
- WHD Field Operations Handbook Chapter 39d03(d)(1) (p.23 of PDF)
- WHD Opinion Letter FMLA 98 (header)
These changes are not regulatory, and they do not fundamentally change the FMLA. They simply recognize that the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision expands the number of employees who are eligible for FMLA benefits to include legally married, same-sex couples. The effective date of this expansion is June 26, 2013, the date of the Windsor decision.
Pursuant to the president’s directive, the Department of Labor continues to collaborate with our federal colleagues, including the Department of Justice, on interpreting the Supreme Court’s decision and ensuring that we are implementing it in a way that provides the maximum protection for workers and their families. We believe the decision represents an important step toward equality for America’s working families, and we look forward to providing further guidance as it becomes available.
Laura Fortman is the principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.