Several weeks ago I reported on the United States Department of Labor’s final rule amending the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA to specifically include spouses in same sex marriages; even for employees working in states that do not currently recognize such marriages. That change was to become effective March 27, 2015.
On March 26, 2015, however, a federal judge in Texas entered an order granting four states’ (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Nebraska) request for a preliminary injunction to delay implementation of the new rule. The federal court found that the complaining states demonstrated a substantial likelihood they would prevail on their claim once the court considers the matter for a final resolution and that they would be “irreparably harmed” should the rule go into effect before the court is able to make a final ruling. This means that the court’s ruling is only temporary and not its final decision.
It is important to keep in mind that this court’s decision only delays implementation of the definition change in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Nebraska. This ruling could, however, provide a template for other challenges by the other dozen states that currently do not recognize same sex marriages. If you are a Tennessee employer or employee you (or your employer) should be following the new rule, until further update. Employment lawyers and Human Resources organizations are awaiting clarification from the United States Department of Labor on whether it will voluntarily delay implementation of the new spousal definition nationwide in light of this ruling. Thus far, no guidance has been offered.
This situation may change in a short time since the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument this term in several cases (including one from Tennessee) in which it is asked to consider the constitutionality of state law prohibitions on same sex marriage.
John M. Lawhorn of Frantz, McConnell & Seymour, LLP practices extensively in the field of Labor and Employment law and regularly advises clients concerning federal and state laws pertaining to employment discrimination, retaliation and harassment, workplace policies, OSHA/TOSHA compliance, wage and hour compliance, labor/management relations, employment contracts and in many other aspects of the employment field. He regularly represents employer and employee interests in Tennessee State and federal courts on a wide variety of employment related matters.