Domestic Partner Benefits

Editor's Note: Deciding whether to offer domestic partner benefits - not an easy decision for many employers.

Tracy MorleyOverview: Domestic partners are generally defined as unmarried couples (of either the same or opposite sex) who are in a loving, committed relationship, and seek the same benefits as those granted to married couples. While there are no federal laws that require employers to provide domestic partner benefits in their employee benefit programs, some state laws have different requirements.

Employers that extend benefits to domestic partners often include:

  • Medical, dental and vision benefits;
  • Leave for bereavement or personal or family illness;
  • Life and accident insurance benefits;
  • Attendance at company sponsored events;
  • Use of gyms and/or other recreational facilities; and
  • Employee discount programs.

Extending benefits to domestic partners, whether required or not, can have significant benefits for an employer, particularly in the areas of recruitment, retention and employee morale. Some questions an employer should consider when deciding whether to offer domestic partner benefits are:

  • Who qualifies as a domestic partner?
  • How will the domestic partnership be verified?
  • What is the minimum number of years a couple must be together to be considered domestic partners?
  • Is the couple required to live together and be financially responsible for one another?
  • What is the process for terminating a domestic partnership?
  • What are the tax implications of extending coverage to domestic partners?

Trends: Many states have changed their definition of marriage and now recognize same-sex partnerships. The repeal of section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has significant implications for employers and how they manage employee benefit plans.

Tracy Morley, SPHR, Legal Editor

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