Human Resources News & Insights

New federal spousal rule is in limbo — for now

The feds’ new definition of “spouse” under the FMLA has run into a small roadblock.  

You’ll recall that last February, the DOL updated the definition of “spouse” for FMLA purposes to reflect the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States. v. Windsor.

In that decision, the High Court essentially struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limited the definition of marriage for federal purposes to an institution between members of the opposite sex.

Under  the DOL’s rule change — which was to take effect in late March — any eligible employee who is in a legal same-sex marriage would be able to take federal FMLA leave to care for his or her spouse regardless of the state in which that employee resides.

In other words, FMLA eligibility would be based on the state where the same-sex couple entered into the marriage and not where that couple currently resides.

Action ‘exceeds agency’s authority’

The snag came up this week, as a federal judge in Texas preliminarily enjoined the implementation of the rule after the attorneys general of Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska and Louisiana filed suit, claiming the rule violated states’ rights.

District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed to enjoin the application of the rule, saying:

 … the Court concludes that the agency action here is inconsistent with Congress’ clear and unambiguous intention and this action exceeds the authority Congress delegated to the agency. … and

… the Court finds that Plaintiffs have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits under this cause of action.

The judge’s ruling is not final. He set April 13 as the date for a hearing “if requested by a party.”

The case is Texas v. United States of America.

Moot point?

Many observers seem to think the Texas decision could well be moot, since the Supreme Court will hear several same-sex marriage cases this term — and likely rule that federal law requires the states to recognize those unions.

Stay tuned.

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