FMLA Change Means Equal Sick Leave for All

Family and Medical Leave Act change to protect medical leave for gay couples

Gay men and women who take time off work to care for their ailing spouses will soon be able to do so without getting fired.

Even couples who live in one of the 13 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage will be able to take time off in accordance with federal labor laws starting March 27.

The US Department of Labor issued a rule change in February that modified the definition of "spouse" in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include all same-sex spouses, regardless of where in the US they reside. Before the rule change, only couples who lived in states that recognized gay marriage could take time off work to care for their spouses without fear of losing their jobs.

According to the Labor Department, legally married same-sex couples can now use FMLA leave to care for spouses with serious health conditions, take qualifying exigency leave due to a spouse’s covered military service or take military caregiver leave for their spouses.

The change also entitles gay couples to take FMLA leave to care for their stepchildren and in-laws.

In a press release, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy praised the Labor Department's decision.

“No legally married same-sex couple should be denied their federal family leave rights simply because they happen to live in a state that disrespects their marriage,” he said.

The FMLA entitles workers at private companies with at least 50 employees and all public-sector employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to care for a sick spouse or family member without losing their jobs.