Same-sex marriage: What’s the impact on benefits, policies?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

While debate on the current same-sex marriage controversy centers on "Is it legal/moral?," your business faces a different question: How do gay couples fit into workplace policies involving everything from family leave to medical benefits?

One thing's for sure: Same-sex unions won't affect benefits and laws administered by the federal government, including Social Security, COBRA or retirement plans that are subject to ERISA. That's because the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 defined marriage as a male/female union. So same-sex partners aren't recognized as spouses, regardless of which approach is adopted by a state.

But many other employee benefits are administered on the state level, including group health coverage, workers' compensation and unemployment compensation.

Employers in states with laws that define marriage as a male/female union would be allowed to deny employee requests for benefits for their same-sex partners.

In a state that permits same-sex unions, employers who provide benefits to employees and spouses will need to review their benefit plans to determine how a "spouse" is defined. Typically, benefits plans define spouse as someone who is legally married to the covered employee under state law. Under that definition, a same-sex spouse of a covered employee would be entitled to benefits.

The issue also could affect organizations that hire employees who are married legally to a same-sex partner under another state's laws.

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