U.S. Department of Labor Amends the Definition of “Parent” for Medical Leave Purposes

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Labor expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act, making the definition of “parent” significantly more inclusive. The decision came from Nancy J. Leppink, the deputy administrator for the department’s Wage and Hour Division, who asserted that “neither the statute nor the regulations restrict the number of parents a child may have under FMLA.”

As a result of the ruling, the words “son and daughter” in the FMLA can now be interpreted as a “biological, adopted or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.” This means that whoever cares for a child on a daily basis is eligible for unpaid medical leave, regardless of the person’s legal obligation to the child. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Leppink’s ruling acknowledges that more people care for children than just biological parents.

A win for non-traditional families in general, the ruling is especially important to same-sex partners who relationships are not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act. The amended law also makes it possible for stepparents, grandparents, or other relatives or guardians who are otherwise responsible for a child’s daily well-being to be recognized as parents without engaging in a formal adoption procedure.

“What does this mean in the real world? It means children can get the support and care they need from the people who love them and are responsible for them,” said Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor. “It means we recognize the importance of a partner who shares in the parenting of a child in a same-sex relationship.”

However, as Ms. Magazine wrote in June, same-sex parents still can’t take time off to care for one another when they are ill – the ruling just applies to taking care of a sick child. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York wants to further expand FMLA regulations to allow medical leave to take care of a same-sex partner. She introduced a bill that would modify the definition of “spouse” to include “a same-sex spouse as determined under applicable state law” – an amendment that works within the confines of DOMA, but would improve conditions for same-sex couples with state-recognized unions.

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