Supreme Court Ruling on Same-sex Marriage: Legal Impacts on Employers

The Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage will impact employers in several ways, some requiring immediate action.

The FMLA is one area of employment law that will be affected by the ruling.  Under the FMLA, eligible employees of covered employers are entitled 12-26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a spouse or certain family members suffering from serious health conditions, after the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a spouse who is in the military service.  With the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, employers must now ensure that these benefits are applied uniformly to all same-sex and opposite-sex marriages.  This does not change the FMLA substantively.  It simply expands those to whom FMLA benefits are available.   

While Ohio was one of the states that had not yet legalized same-sex marriage, there are already legally married same-sex couples working in Ohio, so these changes must be implemented immediately to cover those who are already married, as well as same-sex couples who are now free to marry in Ohio.  For all present and future same-sex spouses, employers must allow FMLA leave:

  • To care for a same-sex spouse with a serious health condition;
  • To care for a stepchild of the same-sex spouse;
  • To care for a same-sex stepparent of the employee;
  • To care for a covered military service member who is a same-sex spouse; or
  • Due to a qualifying need related to the same-sex spouse’s military service.

Another area of employment law that will be impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling is employee benefits and beneficiary designations.  Employers may need to make changes to their enrollment processes, consent forms, and eligibility forms to ensure that same-sex couples have the same access to spousal benefits as all other married couples.

The specific changes that must be made may vary based on your benefit providers.  Important attention should be paid to the eligibility of same-sex couples who were married prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, to determine when and how they can make necessary changes to their benefit plans.  Same-sex couples who were married on the day of, or after the Supreme Court’s ruling will be entitled to the same enrollment process and benefits as opposite-sex couples.

This is a sweeping change that will impact employers and individuals in other ways including, but not limited to, taxes, estate planning, domestic relations, property ownership, and medical consent.  Your Day Ketterer attorney is prepared to help you navigate these legal changes.  Call or email Michelle Reese or your Day Ketterer attorney at 330.455.0173 or info@dayketterer.com for more information.