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Medical leave rights expanded for California gay spouses

California workers are protected by some of the strongest employment laws in the nation. State laws, like Paid Family Leave and the California Family Rights Act, mirror the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. State laws generously expand the contents and protections of the federal law, but the FMLA is catching up rapidly.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that a federal medical leave policy will apply to spouses of the same sex beginning March 27, even in states where same-sex marriages are not permitted. Among other provisions, the FMLA allows spouses to take off 12 weeks of unpaid time to care for a sick spouse.

This rule change really doesn't affect gay couples who marry and reside in California, where same-sex marriage is acknowledged and permitted. State employment laws providing medical leave for spouses already cover gay spouses. However, the change is significant for gay couples married in California who move or live elsewhere in the United States.

The 12-week FMLA medical leave for gay spouses will depend upon marriage rules in the state where the couple's marriage took place, not a current place of residence. In other words, gay spouses married in California can take medical leave caregiver rights with them anywhere in the country. The new rule is the continuation of a plan by the White House to provide legal protections, like joint tax filing statuses, to same-sex couples.

The new rule could be displaced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling set for June. The high court may legalize gay marriage, making the definition of marriage and eligibility of spouses consistent nationwide.

The FMLA allows employees in companies with at least 50 employees to take unpaid family or medical leave for 12-weeks in a single year without the loss of health benefits. Employees may file claims against employers who wrongfully deny time off for family leave.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Labor Department extends caregiver leave rights to same-sex couples" Timothy M. Phelps, Feb. 25, 2015

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