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Skeptical of ‘Spouse’ on benefit plan? Ask for proof

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Q. A few of our employees have added their spouses to our health benefits plan. We've heard through the grapevine that some of these “couples” aren't actually married. Can we check on this without being discriminatory? —L.C., Illinois

A. If you have reason to suspect fraud (and the co-worker comments are reason enough), you can legally ask employees to verify their marital status. You can ask for any documentation that establishes a marriage, such as a marriage certificate, titles to a car or home in the spouses' names or a jointly filed tax return. Give the employee a choice. Some employers ask employees to complete “marriage verification” forms, which essentially are affidavits.

Final point: If your state still recognizes common-law marriages, don't treat a couple bound to marriage by common law any differently than a couple with a “properly” solemnized marriage.

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