WASHINGTON – The Labor Department intends to issue regulations this week ordering businesses to give gay employees equal treatment under a law permitting workers unpaid time off to care for newborns or loved ones.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis planned to announce Wednesday that the government would require employers to extend the option that has been available to heterosexual workers for almost two decades, two officials briefed on the plan said Monday. Neither was authorized to speak publicly ahead of the announcement.
The move, coming less than five months before November’s congressional elections, seemed likely to incite conservatives and Republicans who stood in lockstep against the Obama administration’s earlier efforts to repeal a ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. It also appeared likely to be popular with loyal Democrats and organized labor.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to take care of loved ones or themselves. The 1993 law, which also allows employees to take time off for adoptions, has previously only been applied to heterosexual couples.
The Labor Department planned to extend those rights based on a new interpretation of the law, the officials said. There was no plan to ask Congress to change the law, which means future presidents could reverse the decision.
President Barack Obama and his administration have slowly rolled out policies to help gays and lesbians, who supported his candidacy but have soured on what they consider his slow pace in making incremental instead of wholesale changes. He planned to meet with gay activists today at the White House, the second time such a reception has been held at the executive mansion.
Earlier this month, Obama issued orders for government agencies to extend child care services and expanded family leave to their workers.