State:

National
A domestic partnership generally refers to a committed relationship between two individuals who are either a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015, all states must license same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages entered into legally out of state. Several states recognize civil unions; some provide legal recognition to domestic partnerships. State laws may limit domestic partnership status to same-sex couples or to opposite-sex couples where one partner is at least 62 years of age or eligible for Social Security.
Following legalization of same-sex marriage, some employers may opt to discontinue domestic partnership benefits because same-sex partners have the legal option to marry. Given the number of possible definitions, employers should determine their objectives and establish corresponding criteria when creating policies that will affect employees with domestic partners, taking care to clearly identify which relationships will meet their definition of domestic partnership.
In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must license same-sex marriages within their own states and legally recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state (Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556 (June 26, 2015)). For employers, this means that an employee with a same-sex spouse is entitled to the same benefits provided to an employee with an opposite-sex spouse.
Under a 2013 ruling by the Court, Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was found unconstitutional. DOMA limited to opposite-sex married couples the spousal rights and responsibilities available under federal laws, including laws such as Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Following the Court's ruling, federal laws that apply to spouses and married couples apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who are legally married under state law (United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013)).
Under a ruling issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS, married same-sex couples are treated as married for federal tax purposes (Revenue Ruling 2013-17). The ruling applies to all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. It also covers federal tax provisions like filing status, dependency exemptions, employee benefits, individual retirement account (IRA) contributions, and the earned income tax credit or child tax credit. The ruling applies to any legally recognized same-sex marriage, but it does not apply to other types of legal relationships, including registered domestic partnerships or civil unions.
In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a ruling regarding married same-sex couples and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). According to the DOL, the term "spouse" under the FMLA means a husband or wife as defined by the “state of celebration” rule, meaning employers must look to the law of the state in which the employee was married. This means that an employee in a same-sex marriage is considered married for purposes of the FMLA, regardless of the state in which the employee resides. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell legalizing same-sex marriage in all states, employers must ensure FMLA is provided to an eligible employee with a same-sex spouse.
The DOL has also provided guidance to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants, and beneficiaries on the Windsor decision's impact on ERISA. According to DOL Technical Release No. 2013-04, generally, the terms "spouse" and "marriage" in Title I of ERISA and in related regulations include same-sex couples who are legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages, regardless of where the couple currently resides.
Similar to the IRS ruling discussed above, DOL's release also notes that the terms "spouse" and "marriage" do not include individuals in legal relationships other than marriage, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Self-funded plans. In 2014, a federal district court in New York ruled that a self-funded health plan may legally contain language that excludes dependent coverage to an employee's same-sex spouse (Roe v. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, No. 12-cv-04788 (S.D.N.Y. 5/1/14)). The employee, who legally married her same-sex spouse in New York, was denied dependent coverage for her spouse under the employer's self-funded plan which expressly excluded same-sex spouses and domestic partners. The employee brought a class action claiming the plan violated Section 510 of ERISA which prohibits discrimination in the employment relationship. The court concluded that because no adverse employment action had been taken against the employee, Section 510 did not apply. In dismissing the case, the court noted that ERISA does not prohibit discrimination in the provision of employee benefits and does not regulate the substantive content of plans.
Note: This case was brought under ERISA and not under federal or state civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination. As in many states, fair employment laws in New York prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A similar case brought under civil rights law might have a different result.
Several states have enacted laws providing legal recognition of personal relationships in the form of domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Please see the state Domestic Partner Benefits section.
Civil unions. The states of Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey, have laws allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. Civil unions in Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey are also available to opposite-sex couples.
Domestic partnerships. California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin legally recognize same-sex domestic partnerships. Colorado provides limited rights for same-sex couples in relation to beneficiary designations. Washington, D.C., recognizes domestic partnerships of any two adults (same sex or opposite sex) who share a mutual residence. The state of Washington recognizes domestic partnerships of same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples if one partner is 62 years of age or older. In California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, partners in a registered domestic partnership have the same rights, benefits, and legal responsibilities as spouses in a marriage. The rights and benefits are more limited in Hawaii, Maine, and Wisconsin. New Jersey authorizes domestic partnerships for same-sex or opposite-sex couples if each of the partners is over the age of 62.
Relationships legalized in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are legally recognized by all states. Colorado, Illinois, and New Jersey also recognize civil unions from other jurisdictions. In addition to civil unions, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., recognize domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions. Colorado also recognizes as a civil union a legal relationship from another jurisdiction that is substantially similar to a civil union under state law.
Domestic partnership benefits are benefits that an employer may offer at its discretion, where not mandated by law, to an employee's unmarried partner who is either of the same or opposite sex. The definition of eligible dependents may vary depending on the benefit plan. For example, it is possible the definition could be broader under the health insurance policy than under the life insurance policy. For this reason, it is advisable for any company policy to state that eligible dependents may be covered without defining the term, and to state that coverage is subject to the terms, conditions, and restrictions of the specific plan document or insurance agreement.
Domestic partnership benefits are offered for a variety of reasons, including fairness, to attract and retain talent, to improve employee morale, and because of state or local law. Some municipalities require government contractors to offer the same benefits to employees' domestic partners that they offer to employees' spouses.
Organizations considering domestic partnership benefits should become familiar with numerous legal requirements. Certain states recognize some form of domestic partnerships and have their own requirements with some general guidelines to consider. An employer should always consult with its legal counsel and its insurance company before extending these types of benefits.
Most employees with domestic partners seek healthcare insurance and leave benefits. Leave includes bereavement, parental leave, and use of accumulated sick leave to care for a domestic partner. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not cover domestic partners, but federal guidelines state that nothing in the FMLA prohibits employers from extending the provisions of the FMLA to domestic partners. States that recognize same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships may require employers to provide certain benefits that are governed by state law, such as medical leave or family leave. Other benefits offered to domestic partners include relocation, access to employer facilities, and attendance at employer-sponsored functions.
In the absence of a state or municipal registry of domestic partnerships, some employers require a statement of financial interdependence and of intent that the relationship is permanent. Generally, employers require that domestic partners be 18 years of age or older, be unmarried, and live together. Many employers accept as verification of the relationship a notarized affidavit of domestic partnership signed by the domestic partners.
Federal income tax law requires employers to calculate imputed taxable income for employees that receive group life insurance coverage in excess of $50,000 (IRC Sec. 79(a)). The amount of imputed taxable income must be reported on the employee's W-2. If an employee's spouse or dependents receive group term life coverage, the employee is taxed on the cost of that coverage to the extent that the cost is not a “de minimis fringe benefit” under IRC Sec. 132(e)(1). A domestic partner is not considered a spouse under federal tax law but may qualify as a dependent and may be treated accordingly.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the “dependent” of an employee is entitled to special enrollment rights in the employee’s group health plan if the dependent initially declined coverage because he or she had other coverage, and the other coverage was subsequently lost. Applicable federal regulations define a “dependent” as “any individual who is or may become eligible for coverage under the terms of a group health plan because of a relationship to the participant.” Therefore, if a group health plan covers domestic partners, a domestic partner may be eligible for special enrollment under HIPAA. For example, if an employer’s group health plan offered coverage to employees’ domestic partners and a domestic partner initially declined coverage because of coverage through his or her own employer, the domestic partner would be eligible for special enrollment under HIPAA if he or she subsequently lost group health coverage because his or her employment was terminated.
Related Topics:
National
A domestic partnership generally refers to a committed relationship between two individuals who are either a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015, all states must license same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages entered into legally out of state. Several states recognize civil unions; some provide legal recognition to domestic partnerships. State laws may limit domestic partnership status to same-sex couples or to opposite-sex couples where one partner is at least 62 years of age or eligible for Social Security.
Following legalization of same-sex marriage, some employers may opt to discontinue domestic partnership benefits because same-sex partners have the legal option to marry. Given the number of possible definitions, employers should determine their objectives and establish corresponding criteria when creating policies that will affect employees with domestic partners, taking care to clearly identify which relationships will meet their definition of domestic partnership.
In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must license same-sex marriages within their own states and legally recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state (Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556 (June 26, 2015)). For employers, this means that an employee with a same-sex spouse is entitled to the same benefits provided to an employee with an opposite-sex spouse.
Under a 2013 ruling by the Court, Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was found unconstitutional. DOMA limited to opposite-sex married couples the spousal rights and responsibilities available under federal laws, including laws such as Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Following the Court's ruling, federal laws that apply to spouses and married couples apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who are legally married under state law (United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013)).
Under a ruling issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS, married same-sex couples are treated as married for federal tax purposes (Revenue Ruling 2013-17). The ruling applies to all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. It also covers federal tax provisions like filing status, dependency exemptions, employee benefits, individual retirement account (IRA) contributions, and the earned income tax credit or child tax credit. The ruling applies to any legally recognized same-sex marriage, but it does not apply to other types of legal relationships, including registered domestic partnerships or civil unions.
In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a ruling regarding married same-sex couples and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). According to the DOL, the term "spouse" under the FMLA means a husband or wife as defined by the “state of celebration” rule, meaning employers must look to the law of the state in which the employee was married. This means that an employee in a same-sex marriage is considered married for purposes of the FMLA, regardless of the state in which the employee resides. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell legalizing same-sex marriage in all states, employers must ensure FMLA is provided to an eligible employee with a same-sex spouse.
The DOL has also provided guidance to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants, and beneficiaries on the Windsor decision's impact on ERISA. According to DOL Technical Release No. 2013-04, generally, the terms "spouse" and "marriage" in Title I of ERISA and in related regulations include same-sex couples who are legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages, regardless of where the couple currently resides.
Similar to the IRS ruling discussed above, DOL's release also notes that the terms "spouse" and "marriage" do not include individuals in legal relationships other than marriage, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Self-funded plans. In 2014, a federal district court in New York ruled that a self-funded health plan may legally contain language that excludes dependent coverage to an employee's same-sex spouse (Roe v. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, No. 12-cv-04788 (S.D.N.Y. 5/1/14)). The employee, who legally married her same-sex spouse in New York, was denied dependent coverage for her spouse under the employer's self-funded plan which expressly excluded same-sex spouses and domestic partners. The employee brought a class action claiming the plan violated Section 510 of ERISA which prohibits discrimination in the employment relationship. The court concluded that because no adverse employment action had been taken against the employee, Section 510 did not apply. In dismissing the case, the court noted that ERISA does not prohibit discrimination in the provision of employee benefits and does not regulate the substantive content of plans.
Note: This case was brought under ERISA and not under federal or state civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination. As in many states, fair employment laws in New York prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A similar case brought under civil rights law might have a different result.
Several states have enacted laws providing legal recognition of personal relationships in the form of domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Please see the state Domestic Partner Benefits section.
Civil unions. The states of Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey, have laws allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. Civil unions in Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey are also available to opposite-sex couples.
Domestic partnerships. California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin legally recognize same-sex domestic partnerships. Colorado provides limited rights for same-sex couples in relation to beneficiary designations. Washington, D.C., recognizes domestic partnerships of any two adults (same sex or opposite sex) who share a mutual residence. The state of Washington recognizes domestic partnerships of same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples if one partner is 62 years of age or older. In California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, partners in a registered domestic partnership have the same rights, benefits, and legal responsibilities as spouses in a marriage. The rights and benefits are more limited in Hawaii, Maine, and Wisconsin. New Jersey authorizes domestic partnerships for same-sex or opposite-sex couples if each of the partners is over the age of 62.
Relationships legalized in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are legally recognized by all states. Colorado, Illinois, and New Jersey also recognize civil unions from other jurisdictions. In addition to civil unions, Hawaii, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., recognize domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions. Colorado also recognizes as a civil union a legal relationship from another jurisdiction that is substantially similar to a civil union under state law.
Domestic partnership benefits are benefits that an employer may offer at its discretion, where not mandated by law, to an employee's unmarried partner who is either of the same or opposite sex. The definition of eligible dependents may vary depending on the benefit plan. For example, it is possible the definition could be broader under the health insurance policy than under the life insurance policy. For this reason, it is advisable for any company policy to state that eligible dependents may be covered without defining the term, and to state that coverage is subject to the terms, conditions, and restrictions of the specific plan document or insurance agreement.
Domestic partnership benefits are offered for a variety of reasons, including fairness, to attract and retain talent, to improve employee morale, and because of state or local law. Some municipalities require government contractors to offer the same benefits to employees' domestic partners that they offer to employees' spouses.
Organizations considering domestic partnership benefits should become familiar with numerous legal requirements. Certain states recognize some form of domestic partnerships and have their own requirements with some general guidelines to consider. An employer should always consult with its legal counsel and its insurance company before extending these types of benefits.
Most employees with domestic partners seek healthcare insurance and leave benefits. Leave includes bereavement, parental leave, and use of accumulated sick leave to care for a domestic partner. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not cover domestic partners, but federal guidelines state that nothing in the FMLA prohibits employers from extending the provisions of the FMLA to domestic partners. States that recognize same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships may require employers to provide certain benefits that are governed by state law, such as medical leave or family leave. Other benefits offered to domestic partners include relocation, access to employer facilities, and attendance at employer-sponsored functions.
In the absence of a state or municipal registry of domestic partnerships, some employers require a statement of financial interdependence and of intent that the relationship is permanent. Generally, employers require that domestic partners be 18 years of age or older, be unmarried, and live together. Many employers accept as verification of the relationship a notarized affidavit of domestic partnership signed by the domestic partners.
Federal income tax law requires employers to calculate imputed taxable income for employees that receive group life insurance coverage in excess of $50,000 (IRC Sec. 79(a)). The amount of imputed taxable income must be reported on the employee's W-2. If an employee's spouse or dependents receive group term life coverage, the employee is taxed on the cost of that coverage to the extent that the cost is not a “de minimis fringe benefit” under IRC Sec. 132(e)(1). A domestic partner is not considered a spouse under federal tax law but may qualify as a dependent and may be treated accordingly.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the “dependent” of an employee is entitled to special enrollment rights in the employee’s group health plan if the dependent initially declined coverage because he or she had other coverage, and the other coverage was subsequently lost. Applicable federal regulations define a “dependent” as “any individual who is or may become eligible for coverage under the terms of a group health plan because of a relationship to the participant.” Therefore, if a group health plan covers domestic partners, a domestic partner may be eligible for special enrollment under HIPAA. For example, if an employer’s group health plan offered coverage to employees’ domestic partners and a domestic partner initially declined coverage because of coverage through his or her own employer, the domestic partner would be eligible for special enrollment under HIPAA if he or she subsequently lost group health coverage because his or her employment was terminated.
CT-WEB06
Copyright © 2017 Business & Legal Resources. All rights reserved. 800-727-5257
This document was published on http://Compensation.BLR.com
Document URL: http://compensation.blr.com/analysis/Benefits-Administration/Domestic-Partner-Benefits-Civil-Union/