PHOENIX — Same-sex couples in Arizona could soon see an expansion of protections if a new proposal is implemented.
The United States Department of Labor has introduced a proposal that would change who qualifies under the federal Family and Marriage Leave Act.
“A spouse in a marriage has the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a marital partner with a serious health condition or to care for a child in that marriage,” said John Balitis, a Valley employment attorney with Fennemore Craig.
After the Supreme Court invalidated a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, which attempted to federally define marriage as between a one man and one woman, the US Department of Labor left the definition of a “spouse” for leave purposes up to the laws of individual states, said Balitis.
“So if you lived in a state that recognized same-sex marriage, such as Minnesota, historically you were able to take advantage of spousal-leave rights under the law,” Balitis said. “(But) if you were a member of a same-sex marriage and lived in a state like Arizona, for example, that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage you were not entitled to those rights.”
The new proposal would look to instead apply the definition of a spouse from the state where someone was married, effectively including married same-sex couple who fit the other criterion for leave time under the act.
“It essentially would change the definition of a spouse, for spousal leave purposes, from one that is premised on the law of the state in which the person resides, to the law of the state in which they were married,” Balitis said.
Balitis said if the proposal is adopted it could have an effect on Arizona businesses and government employees who would become eligible for leave time, so companies need to make sure they’re in compliance if it does take effect.
“Employers in states like Arizona need to then turn to their internal policies, their manuals and their handbooks, to make sure that they are consistent with the new rule,” he said.
The proposal is currently in a public comment period until Aug. 11.