Until this month, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has entitled almost all eligible spouses to take job-protected, unpaid leave to care for family members, including a sick spouse or stepchild. But it has not covered spouses who are married to same-sex partners. That means that even though you might be legally married to your spouse, you could still be denied the rights that opposite-sex spouses have to job-protected FMLA leave to care for your sick spouse – simply because of who you are, who you love, and who you married.
But now, thanks to the Department of Labor, same-sex spouses will have the same leave rights under the FMLA as spouses in heterosexual marriages. This month, the Department of Labor issued a new rule that becomes final today, defining “spouse” under the FMLA as being determined by where the celebration of marriage occurred, rather than the employee’s current state of residence. In other words, under the “place of celebration” rule, an employee in a same-sex marriage will be deemed a spouse under the FMLA if her marriage took place in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, even if she currently lives and works in a state that does not. Read more »
There’s a running joke in my family of the lucky coincidence that the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was officially passed on the very day that I was born. On that Friday, February 5, as my family was welcoming me into the world, President Clinton was signing the bill into law, ensuring that new moms like mine could take unpaid leave for 12 weeks after giving birth, or to care for a sick child or family member, without the fear of repercussions at work. Of course, this bill was not a cure-all—for many families, unpaid leave just won’t cut it, and they need more reform to the existing laws to maintain their economic security.
On FMLA’s 20th birthday, America should celebrate this critical piece of legislation, which gave millions of workers the right to job-protected, unpaid leave. But we must also recognize how much farther we have to go in creating a workplace that takes into account the caregiving needs of the 21st century workforce.
First, the celebration: Thanks to the FMLA, millions of workers have been able to take time off from work without risking their jobs to care for a new child, for their own illness, or to care for family members who were sick. Ninety-one percent of employers report that complying with the FMLA has had either positive or neutral effects on their businesses. The positive business impacts noted by employers include reductions in employee absences, reductions in turnover, and improved morale. Eighty-five percent of employers report that complying with the FMLA is very easy, somewhat easy, or has no noticeable effect on their businesses.
The bottom line: the FMLA has been wildly successful. And now we should build on that success. Read more »
On Tuesday, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court held that state employees who are denied their Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) rights to take time off because of their own serious medical conditions have no meaningful remedy. The facts in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals don’t necessarily suggest that this is a case about sex discrimination and pregnancy discrimination: Daniel Coleman, a man employed by the Maryland Court of Appeals, sought sick leave for a serious medical condition and was terminated—in violation of the FMLA, he claimed. As Justice Ginsburg explained in her powerful dissent, however, whether and how the FMLA protects state employees who need time of because of their own serious medical conditions is in many ways fundamentally an argument about gender and the protections the Constitution provides against sex discrimination. According to five Justices on the Supreme Court, women just lost that argument. Read more »
I was lucky enough to take a field trip from work yesterday to watch oral arguments at the Supreme Court. That would be enjoyable for me under any circumstances, but yesterday it was particularly exciting because the case I saw argued has very serious implications for women. Read more »