A Year After Windsor, More Employers Give Benefits to Same-Sex Couples, Survey Finds

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By Sean Forbes  

June 27 — A year after the U.S. Supreme Court's Windsor ruling, 82 percent of U.S. employers offer benefits to same-sex couples, up from 61 percent in June 2013, according to survey results released June 26.

More than half (55 percent) of the 538 human resources, benefits and industry professionals who responded to the survey said they offered benefits to same-sex couples because they strive to be inclusive and recognize that there are types of families other than those designated by law, according to the report from International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

The remaining 45 percent said they offered such benefits simply to remain compliant with the law, according to the report, “Employee Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: the DOMA Decision One Year Later.”

Employers with 10,000 or more employees were likelier to report a more inclusive approach.

In United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 57 EBC 1577 (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining a marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional.

Even though 58 percent of respondents said they have been affected by recent changes in the law regarding same-sex marriages, at both federal and state levels, few said the changes had a “very” (10 percent) or “extremely” high impact (4 percent).

All but 1 percent of employers intend to continue providing benefits for unmarried same-sex partners, the survey found.

Differences by States

Fifty-eight percent of employers have operations in states where same-sex marriage is legal as well as in states where it isn't. IFEBP asked this group whether they planned to extend benefits to same-sex couples.

Eighty percent said they now extend benefits to all married same-sex couples whether or not those couples live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.

In an August 2013 IFEBP survey conducted in the wake of the Windsor decision, 16 percent of respondents with operations in both types of states said they had already extended benefits to same-sex married couples regardless of where the couples lived, and another 24 percent said they would. Another 40 percent said they were just waiting for further legal or regulatory guidance.

Among employers operating only in states where same-sex marriage isn't recognized, the number that offer benefits to same-sex couples, whether married or not, jumped from 9 percent last year to 32 percent this year.

“We saw, I think, more of an increase, at least than I was expecting,” Julie Stich, director of research for IFEBP, told Bloomberg BNA on June 26.

IFEBP also found that companies with operations only in nonrecognition states communicated changes in the law far less than companies with operations in both recognition and nonrecognition states, Stich said.

Proof of Marriage

Employers “are playing a bit of catch-up” in obtaining proof of marriage for same-sex married partners compared with opposite-sex couples, Stich said.

Employers have asked for proof of marriage for various reasons, such as dependent eligibility audits, she said.

Fifty-five percent of employers said they require proof of marriage for same-sex couples, and Stich said another 11 percent indicated they plan to do so.

Sixty-one percent of employers said they require proof of marriage for opposite-sex spouses, and Stich said another 8 percent said they plan to do so.

Actions Taken

IFEBP also found that employers have taken various actions in the wake of the Windsor ruling, including:

  •  67 percent of employers changed the words “husband” and “wife” to “spouse” on benefit forms and in benefit policies;
  •  59 percent reviewed definitions of “spouse” and “domestic partner” in benefit plans and policies for clarity and consistency;
  •  52 percent updated plan documents and summary plan descriptions to change definitions of “spouse” and “domestic partner”;
  •  28 percent changed W-4 withholding; and
  •  9 percent filed for a refund of Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes paid on past benefits to same-sex couples.
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    To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Forbes in Washington at sforbes@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Kushin at pkushin@bna.com

    Text of the IFEBP report is available at http://www.ifebp.org/pdf/research/execsummary_doma14.pdf, and of an infographic at http://www.ifebp.org/pdf/research/infographics_doma2014.pdf.