Grappling With the ‘Uncharted Territory’ of N.J. Civil-Union Law

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

The New Jersey law that grants all the rights and responsibilities of marriage to civil-union couples has plunged employers and employees into a legal quagmire. Challenges exist on many fronts:

  • One woman was denied coverage for a mammogram because her insurer switched her sex to male: The company’s forms did not have spaces for two female partners.
  • Companies that self-insure through plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act must square with the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
  • Companies headquartered in other states or offering insurance through out-of-state providers are governed by the laws of those states.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

What’s an employer to do? While the courts sort out the letter of the law(s), many employers are trying to follow the spirit. Some have decided to offer comparable health plans to civil-union partners. Many are responding as needed to employee complaints.

One thing is certain: It will be years before the courts sort this one out. 

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