Same-sex marriage in Alabama: What employers need to know

Birmingham Business Journal

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Alabama probate judges have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples following a recent ruling out of the Southern District of Alabama that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Employers should take note on how this development will impact leave and benefits for employees with same-sex spouses.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees of covered employers are entitled to take unpaid leave for reasons including to "care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition."

The U.S. Department of Labor defines spouse as "a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including 'common law' marriage and same-sex marriage." This means that covered Alabama employers must now recognize same-sex marriages for FMLA purposes.

This provision also applies if an employee has previously married a same-sex partner in another state where same-sex marriage was already legal. An employee may also be entitled to take leave to care for a spouse's child with a serious health condition, even if the employee has not legally adopted the child but has day-to-day responsibilities to care for the child. Covered employers should review their leave policies to confirm they are consistent with FMLA requirements.

While employers are not required to offer benefits for employee spouses, those that do should also review their benefits policies to consider all the areas that this change will affect. Employers need to be sure they are handling these situations properly and that they are treating same-sex spouses like any other spouse. Employers should also provide training to employees administering leave and benefits to ensure that any changes to company policy are smoothly implemented.

Employers should keep an eye on the development of this issue as the Supreme Court prepares to rule later this year on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Anne R. Yuengert is a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Birmingham. Anne Knox Averitt is an associate in the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Birmingham.

Republished with permission. “Same-sex marriage in Alabama: What employers need to know” first appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal on February 27, 2015.