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DOMA's Impact on Employee Benefits

End of DOMA Directly Impacts 
Employee Benefits 
  
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  This action indicates that same-gender marriages must now be recognized by the federal government in 13 states and the District of Columbia which currently, or will soon, allow same-gender marriages.
  
The decision states that same-gender couples who are legally married must be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-gender couples.  This has no impact on domestic partnerships.  
  
Same-gender spouses will now be eligible for:
  • Pre-tax medical premium deductions, and can avoid imputed income on the value of premiums
  • Expense reimbursement under an employee's FSA, HSA and HRA
  • COBRA and FMLA benefits, as tax dependents of employees
  • Survivor annuity rights under pension plans
  • Beneficiary rights under 401(k) and life insurance policies

There are still many questions that remain and the federal government agencies will continue to provide guidance and clarify the impact of DOMA decision on the administration of employee benefit plans. 

 

Pending Questions
  
Some of the following questions are waiting to be addressed:
  • Is the Supreme Court's decision a qualifying event, which would allow a same-gender spouse the right to add/remove coverage under an employer sponsored health plan?
  • What are the guidelines for same-gender married couples who wish to file an amended tax return for previous years?
  • Will employers be required to retroactively apply any benefits to employees of same-gender marriages?
  • What rules will apply to same-gender couples who are married in a state where same-gender marriage is legal, but live/work in a state where the marriage has no legal standing.

Many more questions will arise in the coming weeks and it is important to speak with a professional on employment law for the current updates.

 

Employer Responsibilities

 

Employers should review their current practices to ensure they are providing benefits to same-gender married employees as they are to opposite-gender married employees.  Also, communicate to employees how changes will affect their current and future benefits.
 
It is highly recommended that Human Resource Departments advise employees to contact them immediately if they have a federally legal same-gender marriage. 
  
Additionally, it is important to remind all employees that they have 30 days from the date or marriage to notify Human Resources if they become legally married, regardless of gender status.

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