Employers Seek Guidance on DOMA Ruling

August 29, 2013 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Two new surveys found that many employers are seeking further guidance about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The first survey, “Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: Impact of the DOMA Decision,” was done by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans (IFEBP). It found that 77.1% of employers reacted positively to the DOMA ruling, compared with 4.9% that reacted negatively. The survey also found that two-thirds (66%) of employers said they still needed further clarification and guidance on the ruling’s complete impact before making major changes to their employee benefits and policies.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA is a step forward for married same-sex couples, but it poses a number of questions for workers and their employers providing spousal benefits,” said Julie Stich, IFEBP’s research director. “The decision impacts various types of employee benefits and retirement plans, and poses tax questions for both employers and employees. Employers have to consider how this ruling affects their health insurance in the midst of implementing Affordable Care Act provisions.”

Stich added that some employers have a head start, as the survey showed that 55% of employers already offer some benefits to same-sex spouses and domestic partners and another 7% offer benefits to same-sex married couples only.

Other findings of the IFEBP survey included:

  • About two-thirds of employers (67.1%) were paying somewhat, very or extremely close attention to the DOMA ruling. Only 14.9% paid no attention at all to the ruling;
  • One-quarter of employers (25.1%) have already noticed an increase in human resources contacts from employees regarding the DOMA decision;
  • Many multistate employers will now provide benefits to same-sex couples even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. Fifty-five percent of employers are located both in states where same-sex marriage is legal, as well as in states where it is not legal. About one-quarter (24.1%) say they will now extend benefit rights to all married same-sex couples, even if they live in a state that does not recognize or allow same-sex marriage. While 15.9% already do so, 40.2% are waiting for regulatory or legal guidance; and
  • More than four in 10 employers (44.5%) offer benefits to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners. An additional 10.5% are now considering adding benefits for opposite-sex couples, while 5.1% are now considering dropping benefits for unmarried opposite-sex couples.

The second survey was done by the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) and asked employers if they would consider same-sex spouses to be married if they lived in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages. Fifteen percent of employers said yes, while 11% said they would only recognize the marriages if the state of residency did. The rest (74%) said that they were undecided or awaiting guidance from the federal government.

The surveys were done in response to U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of DOMA. In early August, the IFEBP surveyed almost 1,000 corporate human resources and benefits professionals, and industry experts to measure employers’ reactions and subsequent efforts in response to the DOMA ruling. A copy of its survey can be found here.

The ERIC survey polled its members between August 20 and 27, 2013. More information on its survey results can be found here.