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Supreme Court Decisions Change Legal Landscape for Employers

Supreme Court Decisions Change Legal Landscape for Employers

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Gesmer Updegrove Client Advisory, June 2013
Gesmer Updegrove Client Advisory, June 2013

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: gesmer on Jul 02, 2013
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11/15/2013

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Changes to Employee Benets after the
DOMA Ruling 
On July 25, in
United States v. Windsor,
the United States Supreme Court declaredunconstitutional a key provision of the fed-eral Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), pavingthe way for legally married gay and lesbiancouples to take advantage of tax breaks, pen-
sion rights, and other federal benets previ
-ously available only to married heterosexualcouples.The DOMA provision that was struck downhad previously mandated that federal statutesonly acknowledge marriages between a manand a woman. While the
Windsor 
decisiondoes
not 
establish a federal right of samesex couples to marry, it
does
compel the fed-eral government to respect individual states’own determinations regarding same-sexmarriages. Consequently, the decision mostimmediately effects residents of jurisdictions
1
 that already recognize those marriages
The benets areas affected by
Windsor 
 include: open enrollment periods for health
plans, continuation of benets under the
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), eligibility for leave under theFamily Medical Leave Act, taxation of spou-
sal health benets, eligibility for spousal
1
Thirteen states (California, Connecticut, Delaware,Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota,New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont,
and Washington), the District of Columbia and ve
Native American Tribes have legalized same sexmarriage. The laws in Rhode Island and Minnesotago into effect on August 1, 2013.
©
2013
Gesmer Updegrove LLP. All rights Reserved.
 
Gesmer.com
40 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109
 
617.350.6800
This may be considered advertising under Mass. R. Prof. C. Rule
7.3
(c)
 July 2013
Supreme Court Decisions ChangeLegal Landscape for Employers
retirement benets, and surviving spousalsocial security benets.
For employers in states where same-sex couples may legally marry (such asMassachusetts), the biggest impact of thedecision may concern health insurance and
similar benets plans that are offered to the
spouses of employees. These plans aregenerally governed by a federal law calledERISA, and DOMA gave employers the abil-ity to exclude same-sex couples from cover-age. In light of the
Windsor 
decision, however,
plans available to the spouses of beneciaries
should now cover all legal spouses, regard-less of gender. A similar analysis applies regarding health
insurance continuation benets offered to
employees and former employees under thefederal COBRA law. Legal spouses of thoseindividuals now have the same rights to con-tinue their health insurance coverage regard-less of gender.Under both ERISA and COBRA, the lawdid not compel employers to deny coverageto gay spouses. However, prior to
Windsor 
,an employer in a state recognizing same sexmarriage always had that option. That is nolonger the case.From the employees’ perspective, these
changes may also have tax ramications –
even if their employers elected not to distin-guish between same-sex and different-sexcouples. For example, prior to
Windsor 
, thespouse of an employee in a different-sex
marriage could be entitled to health benets
Client
Advisory

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