Most Companies Providing Same-Gender Benefits

June 26, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – More than 80% of companies provide benefits to couples in same-gender marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, according to a survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

This figure is a 34% increase over 2013, says the foundation, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. The survey, “Employee Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: The DOMA Decision One Year Later,” reveals 55% of employers are approaching sexual-orientation-based benefits with an inclusive view recognizing the changing dynamics of what constitutes a family. This often includes not only same-sex couples who are married, but also same-sex couples who are in civil unions and domestic partnerships.

“We are seeing a significant shift in employers providing benefits to same-sex couples due to the Supreme Court ruling made one year ago today, as well as changes in state laws that resulted from that landmark decision,” says Michael Wilson, CEO of the foundation, based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. “Some employers are making changes in order to remain compliant with the law, while others are working to create a more inclusive corporate culture through their benefit plans.”

Findings from the survey also include:

  • Among employers operating both in states where same-sex marriage is legal and in states where it is not legal, 80% say they now extend benefit rights, including health care, disability or life insurance, to all married same-sex couples even if they live in a state that does not recognize or allow same-sex marriage;
  • Among employers that operate in states where same-sex marriage is not legal, 32% now extend benefit rights to all same-sex couples, both married and unmarried;
  • Fifty-eight percent of employers reported that recent changes in legislation and legal rulings have had an impact on their organization;
  • Fifty-five percent have actively communicated legislative changes to their staff; and
  • Thirty-nine percent have noticed an increase in human resource questions and contacts from employees.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Section 3 of DOMA, employers recognize that many states do not have legislation supporting same-sex marriage or civil unions,” says Julie Stich, director of research at the foundation. “As a result, employers are taking steps to continue or establish new benefits for same-sex couples in order to ensure employees and their spouses are happy and healthy, and receiving benefits.”

The survey also finds the vast majority of employers providing benefits to unmarried same-sex domestic partners and those in civil unions plan to continue these benefits even now that same-sex marriage is recognized for federal purposes. Employers note several reasons for continuing these benefits, including:

  • To recognize all types of families (60%);
  • They feel it’s the right thing to do (47%);
  • Such marriages are not recognized in their state (39%); and
  • Employees are staying in domestic partnerships or civil unions (28%).

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of U.S. v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had defined marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman, and a spouse as an opposite-sex husband or wife.

The foundation recently conducted its survey to measure employers’ reactions and subsequent efforts in response to the 2013 ruling. Responses were received from 538 corporate human resources and benefits professionals, and industry experts. These individuals represent a comprehensive range of organizations with respect to size, industry and region.

More information about the survey and its results can be found here.

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