MTMMary Richards’ job interview with Lou Grant is, perhaps one of the most famous job interviews ever. So says Time magazine.

Before I go on, though, there are probably more than a few of you who don’t know what I’m talking about.

But with the passing of Mary Tyler Moore earlier today here in Connecticut, I was reminded of an early exchange from her television show that was included in an employee training seminar I did for employers many years ago.  It was used as an example (with humor) of what NOT to do in a job interview as a supervisor and there were many in the audience who remembered that television show.

I haven’t been able to find the actual video online – but YouTube does have a remake of the job interview featuring cartoons.  And you can get a sense of the dialogue elsewhere.

First, you have the supervisor (Lou) asking Mary what her age was. (Sigh.) To compound matters, he then asks what her religion is. (Double sigh.)

But this is where the show was groundbreaking — Mary doesn’t just respond.  She’s a “modern woman” (as The New York Times called her) and tells him: “I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that question when someone is applying for a job. It’s against the law.”  He pushes back — “You gonna call the cops?” To which, Mary demurs.

And the interview continues with personal questions including whether she was married (she was not).  Then Mary stands up and calls him out for asking so many questions that have nothing to do with the job.

Lou responds in a classic line: “You’ve Got Spunk.”  Of course, he then says he hates “spunk” but this was the early 1970s and she was still hired.

It was groundbreaking television.  As NPR reported from an interview Ed Asner (who played Lou), that moment was critical: “It was the most powerful moment in theater I’ve had, because she played it so beautifully,” Asner told NPR in 2001. “The audience was going ‘oh-goo-goo’ at that moment.”

A few years ago, Time Magazine — in calling this show’s pilot one of the 10 best of all time — noted that it really formed the foundation of the workplace-as-family sitcom that so many other shows tried to copy.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, Mary Tyler Moore stood out to me because, well, she kinda seemed like my mom who was already in the workplace. Growing up, I didn’t see it as that unusual.

But now with the hindsight of history, all employment lawyers can point to Mary Tyler Moore as giving workplace issues their rightful place. And for a generation of women, Mary Tyler Moore represented more than just a television show.  She represented them.

Proper hiring procedures are still a topic we’re talking about today and I’ll be presenting on the topic next month.  Maybe it’s time I bring back the Mary Tyler Moore reference.  Watch for details soon.

Rest in Peace, Mary Tyler Moore.

(Due to an editing error (and spell check) an early version of this post referred to her character as Mary Roberts; it is obviously Mary Richards.) 

Back in June, after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, I made a fairly easy prediction:

The federal FMLA is also anticipated to undergo some pretty big changes in states that approve same-sex marriages. Already in 2010, the FMLA regulations suggested that married same-sex couples could take time off to care for a newborn child; now FMLA policies will have to be tweaked to make it plain that employees can take time off to care for a same-sex spouse where it is legal.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor went ahead with those revisions in an updated “Fact Sheet”.  But before I spell that out, let’s talk about the employers that this affects:

  • If you have fewer than 50 employees, you are probably not covered under the FMLA.  The USDOL’s guidance won’t change that.
  • Similarly, if you have 75 or more Connecticut employees, you are probably covered by the state version of the FMLA.  The CTFMLA has protected same-sex spouses now for a few years.  The USDOL’s updated fact sheet won’t change much.
  • For employers in Connecticut with 50-74 employees, only the federal FMLA has technically applied. For these employers, the changes announced by the USDOL will have an impact.

The USDOL clarified that the definition of a “spouse” will depend on the state law:

Spouse: Spouse means a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including “common law” marriage and same-sex marriage.

Obviously, in Connecticut, which recognizes same-sex marriages now, that means the FMLA will now cover same-sex spouses.  For employers in states other than Connecticut which recognize such marriages, this also means the FMLA will also apply to such spouses.

But here’s the rub, as a JD Supra post highlighted:

The DOL’s FMLA “spouse” definition does not cover situations in which an employee in a same-sex marriage resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, but was married or works in a state that does recognize such marriages. If the DOL wishes to expand the “spouse” definition, it will be unable to do so through fact sheets or interpretive guidance, but instead must act through a public notice-and-comment rulemaking process.

For employers, the change should not be surprising. But it does mean employers should do what typically needs to be done in these situations: Train supervisors, update policies, and seek additional guidance if you have employees in states that do not recognize same sex marriages.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act.  The SCOTUSBlog has done an admirable job with the recaps and if you want more information about that decision, you should really go there first.

Mother Nature broke out the rainbows last night.

But the immediate impact of the decision is that it changes all the 1000+ places in federal law where “marriage” or “spouse” was used.  In other words, if a state recognizes a same-sex couple as married (like Connecticut), then federal law must do the same.

Employers in Connecticut have already had to address same-sex marriages several years ago when they became legal in the state.  Thus, for employers, items like health benefits or Connecticut FMLA leave have already changed. Yesterday’s ruling won’t change that.

The problem for employers, is how to address these items on a nationwide basis and how to address the federal changes that will now occur.  The ruling provides some clarity but not all answers are clear cut yesterday.

For employers in Connecticut and elsewhere where same-sex marriages are approved, you can probably expect several impacts.

For example, you should anticipate that employees who are legally married to same-sex partners will want to update their W-4 forms to change their tax filing status to “married”.  You should not stop them.

But the tax consequences are a little messier in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages.

As highlighted in a Workplace Resource Center post: If an employee’s same-sex partner is considered a “spouse” under state law, the partner’s benefits are not to be considered part of the employee’s gross income and the IRS will not tax that partner’s health benefits. Consequently, the employee’s net income will decrease, resulting in a decrease in the amount of payroll taxes the employer and employee will be required to pay.

The federal FMLA is also anticipated to undergo some pretty big changes in states that approve same-sex marriages. Already in 2010, the FMLA regulations suggested that married same-sex couples could take time off to care for a newborn child; now FMLA policies will have to be tweaked to make it plain that employees can take time off to care for a same-sex spouse where it is legal.

But as Jeff Nowak noted on the FMLA Insights blog this morning, all is not clear in states that don’t permit same sex marriages. In other words, the extent of the changes to the FMLA is still being determined.  But at least in Connecticut, federal FMLA would now seem to apply to same-sex spouses.

Employers should also anticipate significant changes to the way health benefits should be covered as well as retirement benefits.   Moreover, if a same-sex married couple gets a divorce, there may be ERISA implications (such as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order – QDRO) that need to be addressed.

Employers will also have to deal with another strange result of the court’s decision: Employees may be deemed “married” in one state, and ostensibly, “not married” if they get transferred to another state.  What then?  That question remains open but is one in a series of open questions that courts will continue to struggle with over the next several years.

Over the upcoming weeks, we will no doubt be exploring all the ways that employers may be impacted.  So stay updated on these developments and correct any existing policies or practices to reflect this new reality.