It has been almost three months since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states are required to permit same sex couples to marry, and to recognize same sex marriages that have been legally licensed and performed in another State. Since that time, employers have been struggling to review and revise their benefit plans to ensure compliance with this ruling and to be prepared to address enrollment requests of their employees’ same sex spouses. Employers with fully insured health and welfare benefit plans are required to offer coverage for same sex spouses if they offer coverage to opposite sex spouses. Employers with self-insured plans are not required to offer equivalent coverage to same sex spouses; however, failure to do so creates a risk of federal and state discrimination claims if the employer does offer coverage to opposite sex spouses.
Employers may also need to determine whether to continue benefits for domestic partners. Obergefell did not address domestic partnerships, but now that same sex marriages should be readily available throughout the United States, the need for domestic partner benefits is likely to decrease.
In addition to addressing possible coverage under medical, dental, and vision plans, employers should also consider extending coverage offers to same sex spouses with regard to group rates for supplemental life insurance plans, long term care insurance, bereavement leave, employee assistance programs, and wellness plans, as well as any other benefits for which an employer includes opposite sex spouses. Employers should review their benefit plan requirements to determine whether any plan amendments may be required before the end of 2015 (or their plan year) to clarify the administration of spousal rights and benefits post-Obergefell. Of course, employers need to consider the best manner in which to communicate these changes to employees.