HR Management & Compliance

Determining FMLA Eligibility: Impact of Supreme Court’s 2015 Same-Sex Marriage Decision

In the case of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to care for a family member, once the employer has determined whether an individual employee is eligible for FMLA leave, many times the next hurdle is determining if the family member is covered by the FMLA. This determination has become somewhat more complicated as the definition of who is a covered family member has changed over the past few years.

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court acted again to define legal marriage. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.

The opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, makes same-sex marriage lawful in all states nationwide and has far-reaching implications in the 13 states that currently do not recognize same-sex marriage.

As a result, employers making FMLA spousal leave eligibility determinations no longer need to consider state law in determining the validity of an employee’s same-sex marriage. All lawfully married couples will be covered by the FMLA, regardless of their sex, where they were married, or where they live.

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