Supreme Court in Washington, D. Supreme Court unequivocally declared same-sex marriage a fundamental right. The mandate was clear: After the celebrations have died down and the uproar from the opposition has quieted, the confusion set in.
What exactly does the ruling mean for employers in terms of administrating workplace benefits, from health insurance to retirement savings? Most employers know the basics. Now that all 50 states must recognize same-sex marriages, all of the rights that are afforded to heterosexual married couples —including those governed by the alphabet soup of employment benefit laws: Employer-provided health insurance plans must now cover same-sex spouses on the same terms as it covers different-sex spouses.
This raises questions over how and when these changes are administered, especially when insurance plans provide narrow windows of time for changing employee benefit elections?
An open enrollment period comes once a year, usually at the beginning or end of the calendar or fiscal year. The existence of a life event is what justifies the departure from normal practice, allowing the insurance company to make an exception for the employee to change her benefits elections outside of the open enrollment period.
Examples of a qualifying life event include getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child. Human resources professionals in states that banned same-sex marriage pre- Obergefell are struggling to determine how these enrollment periods affect employees with same-sex spouses.
But, how should they treat employees who were legally married to same-sex spouses in another state prior to the June decision?
Consider the following scenario: Jane legally married Michelle in Massachusetts in In , Jane and Michelle moved to Michigan a State that banned same-sex marriage prior to the Obergefell decision , and Jane began working for a company that did not offer benefits to same-sex spouses. From , Jane was unable to secure spousal health insurance. Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, Jane wishes to add Michelle to her health insurance plan as soon as possible.
Certainly, the Obergefell decision itself does not constitute a qualifying event for purposes of special enrollment. But does the new legal recognition of same-sex marriages previously performed in another state count as a qualifying life event?
Or must Jane wait until the open enrollment period begins on January 1, to add Michelle to her health insurance?