Another consequence of the decision legalizing same-sex marriage is that same-sex spouses are eligible for FMLA leave to take care of a spouse with a serious health condition. This raises some difficult practical questions, such as how FMLA leave works for same-sex couples that include:
Can an employer ask for a marriage certificate when an employee asks for leave to take care of a same-sex spouse?
The answer to this question is probably yes. The U.S. Department of Labor states that an employer can ask for a verification of marriage so long as they don’t discriminate in the requirement. An employee with a newly legally recognized same-sex marriage may feel inconvenienced that they have to prove their marital status to get FMLA leave. They might also feel they are being discriminated against because heterosexual individuals aren’t asked to provide a marriage certificate when they take FMLA leave to take care of their spouse. However, if an employer requires heterosexual couples to verify marriage through a producing a marriage certificate for insurance purposes, it could make sense that a heterosexual person is not asked to produce a marriage certificate to take family leave, if they have already done so for insurance purposes.
Taking family leave can be stressful, and I am sure there are some human-resources officials who hold anti-LGBT attitudes. But even if an employer doesn’t request a marriage certificate for heterosexual couples to verify FMLA leave, employees should assume that the request is made in good faith. Courts favor individuals who comply with the requests of their employers, even if those requests aren’t made within the letter of the law.
In states where marriage was same sex marriage was legalized by Obergefell, when do FMLA protections start?
In states like Nebraska, where the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage, an interesting question is whether an employer is required to retroactively count family leave as FMLA if the leave started before the marriage was formally legalized in that state but the individual’s same-sex marriage was recognized in another state. This is a pertinent issue in Nebraska, since many same sex-couples were married in nearby Iowa, which has recognized same-sex marriage since 2009. The U.S. Department of Labor would likely argue that if you married your same-sex partner in Iowa that you would have had FMLA protections in Nebraska to take care of your spouse even if Nebraska didn’t recognized same marriage until June 26, 2015. But courts may not give much weight to the opinion of the U.S. Department of Labor. This issue is a legal toss-up. The best thing that same-sex couples can do to protect their rights to FMLA leave is to not give their employer any valid excuses for terminating them for taking FMLA leave.
Please click here to read part one of this series. Feel free to contact our office if you have questions about the issues raised in these two posts.