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Landmark Same-Sex Ruling May Affect Your Benefits Plan

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in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,Human Resources

Your organization may soon need to revamp some of its employee benefits in light of an important ruling Oct. 25 by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The ruling granted committed same-sex couples the same statutory rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples. It gave the state legislature six months to do one of two things:

  1. Amend the marriage statute to include same-sex couples.
  2. Create a parallel statute, such as one governing civil unions, to ensure that committed same-sex partners enjoy the same statutory rights and benefits as married couples.

The law may entitle same-sex partners to certain employee benefits currently granted to spouses under existing New Jersey state laws, such as survivors’ benefits under workers’ compensation rules. (The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination already covers discrimination based on affectional or sexual orientation, marital status and familial status.)

The landmark New Jersey ruling probably won’t affect most benefits covered under federal law (ERISA), which generally trumps state laws that govern employee benefits.

For example, the New Jersey ruling would not likely entitle same-sex partners to participate in self-insured medical and dental plans or have enforceable rights as death beneficiaries of employees’ 401(k) plan accounts.  

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