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Proposed expansion of the FMLA to cover same-sex couples

U.S. employment law has many protections for employees in the workplace. These laws aim to protect an employee from unfair discrimination and unjust treatment, as well as provide some important job-related benefits in the event of a family or medical emergency. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is one of the laws that has significant importance to a great number of employees throughout New York and the United States. As legal definitions of family relationships continue to change, the reach of the FMLA may soon be extended.

In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Defense of Marriage Act. Since that moment, the legal effects of overturning DOMA at the federal level continue to grow. Recently, President Obama announced an intention to extend the coverage of the FMLA to same-sex couples with valid marriages in any state, regardless of whether the state where they are currently living recognizes their union. After a period of time when public comments are collected on the proposed law change, the suggested expansion of the FMLA will likely become policy.

The FMLA is an important federal law that dates back to the 1990s. It provides for unpaid leave for employees when they are required to take time off from work due to a medical emergency or illness of their own or a qualifying family member. The law is designed to protect employees from losing their jobs in these times of crisis. The law guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a range of circumstances, including caring for a child after adoption, foster placement or childbirth; incapacity due to pregnancy or childbirth; treatment for a serious medical condition; caring for a spouse, child or parent with a serious medical condition; and other qualifying emergencies related to active duty in the Armed Forces.

Although this law is designed to protect employees and their rights to employment, some employers attempt to evade the requirements of the law or fail to follow the law altogether. Unfortunately, some employees may face improper treatment or lose their employment due to a simple request for medical leave under the FMLA. Employees who believe a request for FMLA leave was improperly denied or who faced retaliation after requesting such leave, however, do have legal recourse and can file a lawsuit to make their employers provide them with their rights under the law.

Source: Slate, "Obama: Gay Couples Should Be Covered by Family Medical Leave Act," J. Bryan Lowder, June 20, 2014

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