Labor to expand family leave benefits to gay workers

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is expected to announce on Wednesday a reinterpretation of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act that will allow gay employees working for large employers -- including the federal government -- to take leave to care for their partner's children.

According to the Associated Press and other news outlets, Solis will announce the new interpretation of the existing law also will apply to other nontraditional families like co-habitating heterosexual couples or grandparents with guardianship of their grandchildren.

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for situations like the birth or adoption of a child; a seriously ill child, spouse or parent; or the employees' own serious health condition.

According to Federal GLOBE, a group representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered federal employees, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman) prevents them from being eligible for leave under FMLA if their domestic partner is sick or becomes a parent.

A GLOBE issue paper stated that, prior to the FLMA, agencies had "a great deal of discretion" in deciding whether to approve leave when an employee had an illness or a sick relative.

"FMLA changed that by entitling employees to unpaid leave to handle certain family situations, including becoming an adoptive or foster parent," the paper noted. "The act also provided employees with the opportunity to change unpaid leave to paid leave if circumstances warranted. However, this act also resulted in a narrow definition of family."

While OPM has issued regulations that more broadly define family members to include "any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship," they do not fall under FMLA's mandatory approval of leave, according to GLOBE.

The organization's position is clear, and is in line with the announcement expected tomorrow: "The FMLA should be amended to ensure that employees are able to take the leave necessary to take care of their domestic partners, if that domestic partner contracts a serious health condition, or becomes an adoptive or foster parent."

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