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Is Your Employee Benefit Plan Up to Date With Same-Sex Marriage Laws?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 15, 2015 6:59 AM

Most employers offer some health insurance coverage to their employees, and some extend it to their employees' spouses. And after the Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry, the pool of employee spouses just got larger.

So are your employee benefit plans up to date with the new law? Are employers required to offer benefits to same-sex spouses?

Department of Labor Guidance

It's up to employers whether to offer their employees benefits and whether to extend those benefits to spouses. However, employers may not offer benefits to opposite-sex spouses and deny them to same-sex spouses. Doing so may constitute sex or gender discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The federal government has recognized same-sex marriages since 2013, and the IRS allows same-sex couples to file joint tax returns. Similarly, the Labor Department has ruled that same-sex spouses are entitled to ERISA benefits as well as leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. As far as the DOL is concerned, all same-sex spouses have employee benefit rights.

Employer To-Do List

In order to make sure your small business is in compliance with applicable laws, you should review their benefit plans and policies. You may need add amendments in light of the same-sex marriage ruling, and benefit plan documents that refer to a spouse as being of the opposite sex may need to be deleted.

You should review your internal procedures to verify equal treatment of opposite-sex and same-sex marital status of employees. And you should also work with you insurers or benefit vendors to determine any necessary changes. If so, you need to communicate those changes to your employees and other benefit plan participants. You may also want to review your payroll procedures to comply with federal and state tax regulations regarding same-sex spousal benefits.

Keeping all the state and federal benefit requirements straight can be complicated. If you need updating your benefit plans for same-sex spouses, you may want to contact an experienced employment law attorney near you.

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