Employers Not Prepared for CT Civil Union Law

September 29, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Connecticut's civil unions law recognizing the union of same-sex couples goes into effect on Saturday, and private-sector employers are not prepared.

Once the law goes into effect, employers will have to consider what it means as far as extending benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, family and medical leave, and retirement benefits to partners of their gay employees. The AP reports that many private-sector employers say they are confused as to what to do, especially since state and federal laws will conflict.

“I think employers are going to start getting requests (for benefits) as soon as Monday. And they’re not prepared,” Bruce Barth, an employee benefits attorney at Robinson and Cole in Hartford, said in the AP report.

The new law gives the same legal rights to same-sex couples as to married couples, such as hospital visitation, state public assistance benefits, and marital privileges in court proceedings (See CT Civil Union Bill Could Affect Employer State Tax Computations ). The state Department of Insurance issued an opinion that the new law also means health insurance plans, excluding self-insured policies, must treat same-sex partners as spouses, according to the AP.

State Representative Michael Lawlor, a key sponsor of the legislation, said the new civil unions law does not specifically require private employers to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners. However, according to the AP, he also said ERISA does not affect municipal insurance plans, so he expects municipal workers in Connecticut to receive benefits for their same-sex partners.

The State Comptroller’s Office said the state of Connecticut plans to recognize the civil union partnership as if it were a “traditional” marriage, so instead of obtaining benefits through the current same-sex domestic partner rules, a state employee will be able to simply check off the “spouse” option on the benefits form. Barth said federal workers will not be affected by the state’s new law since the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

One issue that will create some complexity for benefit administrators is the taxing of health insurance provided to civil partners. The AP reports that a civil union partner’s taxable income for state purposes will be different from the taxable income reported on their W-2 form if receiving health benefits.