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September 19, 2007
Employment News from New Hampshire Lawmakers

New Hampshire lawmakers this year approved legislative proposals that affect employers, including the establishment of a job training fund and the ability of same gender couples to enter into civil unions.

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Civil Unions

Governor John Lynch on May 31 signed Chapter 58, which allows same-gender couples to enter civil unions and have the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples. For employers, this affects healthcare and workers' compensation benefits as well as the issue of possible marital status discrimination. The law will take effect on January 1, 2008. With the passage of the new law, New Hampshire became the fourth state, after Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont, to extend this right to same-gender couples.

Health insurance. As before, employers aren't obligated to provide spousal or family coverage. But those who do provide it may enter into a bit of legal complication, according to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). According to GLAD, employers who obtain their health coverage from commercial insurers are subject to state law and will therefore be required to cover partners in civil unions. What's less clear is the extent of that same obligation on self-insured plans, which are subject to federal law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The problem here is that another federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), bars federally regulated benefits and protections to partners in civil unions. That means, for example, that civil union partners aren't entitled to spousal benefits under the federal Social Security law. According to GLAD, this may also mean that self-insured plans, because they are regulated by the federal government, may not be required to extend spousal or dependent coverage to partners in a civil union. Those plans almost certainly may do so voluntarily, however.

Under the same line of reasoning, New Hampshire residents who work for the federal government and are partners in civil unions will not be entitled to spousal or dependent benefits under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Civil union partners who work for state or local government, however, will be entitled to the same health insurance rights and benefits provided to married employees. That's because state law, not federal, governs those public employer plans.

Workers' compensation. Civil union partners and families are entitled to the same family benefits that would be available to spouses and children under traditional marriages.

Protection against marital status discrimination under state law. As of January 1, 2008, the partners in a civil union will be entitled to protection against marital status discrimination under state law. The state employment discrimination laws apply to employers of six or more.

Job Training Fund

Chapter 204, signed by Governor Lynch on June 6, restores the state's Job Training Fund, which helps private businesses train new workforces and retrain existing employees for new technologies and new jobs. To do this, the new law dedicates up to $1 million per year from the administrative segment of the state's unemployment trust fund. This will not affect that part of the fund from which jobless benefits are paid. Employers taking advantage of the fund are required to match the grants dollar for dollar.

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