Employers Face Changes After Same-Sex-Marriage Ruling
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
When the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, it made an estimated 225,000 Americans in legally recognized same-sex marriages eligible for the same federal benefits as straight couples. Many of those benefits touch the workplace.
And as NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports, employers are beginning to think about the changes they will have to make.
WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: There are still more questions than answers for employers and employees as a result of the High Court ruling. But that's not surprising to David Codell of UCLA's Williams Institute, a think tank that studies sexual orientation and the law.
DAVID CODELL: Discrimination is messy, and it takes a look of work to clean up.
KAUFMAN: More than a thousand federal laws rules and regulations have an impact on married couples, and may have to be changed. They deal with things like health care, retirement, family leave and many other benefits For same-sex couples who live and work in states that recognize their union, getting the new benefits should be relatively straightforward. But Codell says for couples who live in states when their marriage isn't honored, it may be complicated.
CODELL: The demise of DOMA is going to raise a lot of practical questions for employers.
KAUFMAN: For example: Will they have to extend marriage benefits to same-sex couples who legally married in Washington, D.C., but now live in Virginia, a state that doesn't recognize their marriage?
The Obama administration says it wants to use a definition of marriage that includes the most people, but until new rules and regulations are written, employers won't know exactly what they'll need to do. But while they wait for answers, they're beginning to ask questions.
BRENT SCHLOSSTEIN: In some cases, we're getting calls from customers and clients about what do we do.
KAUFMAN: Brent Schlosstein is founder of TrueBenefits, an employee benefits consulting firm.
SCHLOSSTEIN: In most cases, the question has to do with imputed income.
KAUFMAN: That's the value of things like health insurance for a same-sex spouse. While the federal government doesn't tax those benefits for married straight couples, it did if couples were of the same gender. The Supreme Court ruling will do away with that distinction, and employers will have to adjust, says Kate Duchene of the consulting firm Resources Global Professionals.
KATE DUCHENE: So the first thing we'll have to do is work with our payroll department to say: How have we been taxing these benefits? And we're going to have to change that treatment in our payroll system.
KAUFMAN: But Duchene - the company's chief legal officer who also heads human resources - says that's just one piece of it.
DUCHENE: We need to draft a communication and tell our employees what we're doing. We made need to do some training, both with our HR staff, as well as some of our field operations folks.
KAUFMAN: She rattles off a long list of other changes that will have to be made, from special benefits in retirement plans to flexible spending accounts for health care. In addition to expanding financial benefits, the court ruling will likely affect the workplace in other ways.
Chris Crespo is an inclusiveness director at accounting giant Ernst and Young. She cites changes in immigration policy. Gay spouses will be treated the same as straight spouses, making it easier for employees living abroad to take assignments in the U.S.
CHRIS CRESPO: We have a lot of mobility that happens domestically and internationally. So I had one person who called me excited about the decision because he can now bring his married spouse into this country and not have decide between spending time with his aging parents or his spouse.
KAUFMAN: For EY and many other large firms, the first step in implementing the Court ruling will begin with something very basic: They'll have to figure out who's entitled to new benefits. Crespo says because her firm offers domestic partner benefits, many employees might not have told the company if they formally tied the knot.
CRESPO: So we haven't tracked - up to this point - who in our firm is legally married from a same-sex perspective.
KAUFMAN: They'll be reaching out to employees to get those answers.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.