Balancing the Demands of the Workplace with the Needs of the Modern Family: Expanding Family and Medical Leave to Protect Domestic Partners

This Note addresses the importance of expanding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and state family and medical leave laws to protect domestic partners. Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow workers to balance their work lives and family lives by granting workers the right to take leave time to care for an immediate family member in times of medical necessity. The term ‘family member,” however, is generally limited to relation y blood, adoption, or marriage, and does not include an individual’s domestic partner. The concept of family has evolved in our legal system and is no longer limited by traditional notions of the family. Same and opposite sex unmarried partners have all of the appearances of marriage and should be granted the right and ability to care for one another when one partner is facing a medical emergency.

In recent years, many jurisdictions have begun to provide some of the legal benefits of marriage to domestic partners who live together, are financially interdependent, and generally act as married couples would act. Few states, however, have provided domestic partners with protection under state family and medical leave laws. This Note argues that family and medical leave benefits should be among the rights extended to unmarried partners and proposes a model to achieve this goal. This Note recounts personal stories from domestic partners who were unable to use family leave time to care for their partners, reviews the benefits provided in existing family and medical leave laws that include domestic partners, and recommends elements that a model family and medical leave act should include. The federal government, a state, or a local government might follow this guidance to craft a family and medical leave statute that permits employees to use leave time to care for their domestic partners.