‘Family member’ definition puts onus on agency heads


President Obama last year sent a memorandum to agency heads in which he sought to ensure that agencies provide employees with the broadest possible support in balancing work, personal and family obligations. In response, the Office of Personnel Management issued draft regulations for comment. Final regulations, effective July 14, broaden the definition of family members and immediate relatives for purposes of sick leave, funeral leave, voluntary leave transfer, voluntary leave bank and emergency leave transfer.

The modifications were made to Part 630, on absence and leave, of the Code of Federal Regulations. Section 630.201 defines a family member as an individual with any of the following seven relationships to the employee: “(1) Spouse, and parents thereof; (2) Sons and daughters, and spouses thereof; (3) Parents, and spouses thereof; (4) Brothers and sisters, and spouses thereof; (5) Grandparents and grandchildren, and spouses thereof; (6) Domestic partner and parents thereof, including domestic partners of any individual in paragraphs (2) through (5); and (7) Any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

The term parent is broadened to include: “(1) A biological, adoptive, step, or foster parent of the employee, or a person who was a foster parent of the employee when the employee was a minor; (2) A person who is the legal guardian of the employee or was the legal guardian of the employee when the employee was a minor or required a legal guardian; (3) A person who stands in loco parentis to the employee or stood in loco parentis when the employee was a minor or required someone to stand in loco parentis; or (4) A parent, as described in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition, of an employee’s spouse or domestic partner.”

And the definition of son or daughter is expanded to include: “(1) A biological, adopted, step, or foster son or daughter of the employee; (2) A person who is a legal ward or was a legal ward of the employee when that individual was a minor or required legal guardian; (3) A person for whom the employee stands in loco parentis or stood in loco parentis when the individual was a minor or required someone to stand in loco parentis; or (4) A son or daughter, as described in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition, of an employee’s spouse or domestic partner.”

As a result of these changes, two terms needed to be defined, with the first giving rise to the second. In Section 630.902, “Domestic partner means an adult in a committed relationship with another adult, including same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.”

According to the new regulations, a “committed relationship” is “one in which the employee, and the domestic partner of the employee, are each other’s sole domestic partner (and are not married to or domestic partners with anyone else); and share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s common welfare and financial obligations. This includes, but is not limited to, any relationship between two individuals of the same or opposite sex that is granted legal recognition by a State or the District of Columbia as a marriage or analogous relationship (including, but not limited to, a civil union).”

These changes do not apply to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which specifies the individuals for whom an employee may take leave, or to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, or to any other benefits that would require legislative changes.

They also do not apply to employees of the Postal Service because OPM does not have jurisdiction over its policies or collective bargaining agreements.

This increase in the types of individuals for whom an employee could request leave puts a burden on agencies to be flexible while not being taken for a ride. While some who commented on the draft regulations wondered how they would be able to distinguish legitimate requests from those that aren’t, OPM reminded them that agencies haven’t usually asked for specific proof of an employee’s relationship with family members included in the previous regulations.

In OPM’s view, “agencies are in the best position to administer their own leave programs and should follow the same procedures for all employees. With regard to documentation, agencies continue to have the same authority to request more information in cases of suspected leave abuse.”


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to fedexperts@federaltimes.com.

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