In 2015, families do not always look the same as they have in decades past. The definition of a family is much broader for a number of important reasons. However, with this shift in the definition of a family, has come some legal questions about who qualifies for certain state and federal benefits. In particular, there have been questions about who qualifies for protections under the Family Medical Leave Act — a federal law.

The FMLA give certain California employees the right to take up to 12 week of unpaid leave from work in certain situations. These situations include the right to take medical leave to take care of a sick spouse. However, in order to qualify for protected time off, a person must be taking care of a spouse. So, who is a spouse under the FMLA?

Previously, a person’s spouse was only considered a spouse under the FMLA if the couple was legally married in the state where the couple was residing. This meant that married same-sex couples could only take FMLA leave if the state where the couple was living recognized same-sex marriages. The same was true for people in common law marriages.

However, on Feb. 25, 2015, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule on the definition of spouse under the FMLA. This Final Rule changed the standard used for FMLA leave. Under this new rule — which went into effect on March 27, 2015 — people are spouses for FMLA purposes as long as they were legally married in the place where the marriage celebration took place. This means that if a same-sex couple was validly married in one state, then they would qualify for FMLA protection anywhere throughout the United States. This rule also applies to couples who have been married abroad.

It is important for California employees to understand when they are protected by the FMLA. While this blog post cannot provide employees specific advice, an attorney can.