The U.S. Supreme Court was the focus of attention last Friday as same-sex couples around the nation received the case holding that they had been hoping for. The Court held that all states must now recognize same-sex marriages, including those performed in other states. States may no longer define marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman.
While millions of Americans are celebrating this decision, many others, including employers, must make immediate adjustments. Fourteen states had not yet adopted same-sex marriage legislation and until this week, there was much confusion for employers in those states on how to handle employees who had same-sex spouses. No guidance existed on whether they were required to treat same-sex spouses the same as opposite-sex spouses if their states refused to recognize same-sex marriage licenses from out of state.
The Department of Labor attempted to partially resolve the confusion earlier this year by requiring all states to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages for the purposes of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This allowed many same-sex couples who were denied certain state benefits to at least receive the benefits required by the FMLA. However, four states, including Texas, successfully filed injunctions against the federal government and refused to implement the new rule.
While employers in most states will experience almost no changes in the wake of the Court decision, it is still important that all employers review policies and procedures to ensure that they recognize same-sex marriages. Employers must ensure that any plans or benefits offered to employees based on their marital status also include employees in same-sex marriages. This includes health benefits, FMLA coverage, fringe benefits, or coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).