On June 26th, in a ground-breaking decision, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Full text of the Court’s decision in Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges, et al. can be found here.
But beyond the general public response, employers need to consider how the ruling will impact employment policies and practices — especially in states that previously have not recognized same-sex marriages. Following are some of the areas where employers might see Obergefell’s impact:
Employee Benefit Plans
If you offer any employee benefit plans through a separate insurance company, all “spousal” benefits must now be extended equally to same-sex spouses as they are to opposite-sex spouses. You may not be under the same restraints if you are self-insured, but if you deny benefits to same-sex spouses in this instance, you run a high risk of discrimination lawsuits.
It’s a good time to review your employee benefit plans and the costs associated with these plans. You should anticipate that the Court’s ruling may add some new couples — and associated costs — to your plans, especially if you did not previously offer benefits to domestic partners or same-sex spouses.
Equal Employment Opportunity
Marital status is a protected class under many state and local laws. These laws now protect all married people, including those in same-sex marriages.
Family and Medical Leave Act
As we discussed in a previous post, the FMLA has recently been amended to include same-sex spouses in the definition of “spouse.” Given the heightened publicity of the Court’s ruling, be sure to review your FMLA policies and practices to ensure that same-sex spouses are included.
Additional Policies and Practices
We recommend reviewing your employee handbook and any other employment policies to make sure that the policies as written – and in practice – apply equally to employees in same-sex marriages or rely on a qualification other than marriage.