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Everything Employee Relocation Managers Need to Know about the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

July 24, 2015 10:00:00 AM EDT | By: Michelle Dopps

Supreme_CourtThe recent United States Supreme Court decision is forcing companies to take a closer look at the benefits extended to employees, and employee relocation benefits are no exception.

What is this ruling all about? It is now unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex couples from getting married, and that means many companies are taking a closer look at the benefits they offer their employees.

So if you want to make sure that you're prepared for this change, keep on reading. We'll dive into more details and give you some points to consider.

What does this ruling mean for employee relocation benefits?

Like health insurance and other traditional benefits, relocation assistance is a big factor in talent management, and these programs often impact an employee’s entire family. Especially for long-term and permanent relocations, you aren’t going to pay just to relocate the employee, leaving his or her family behind. Some relocation benefits even target an employee’s spouse specifically, such as dual-career assistance.

Do you offer these relocation benefits to your employees’ spouses or domestic partners currently? If so, you may want to alter your programs to account for the same-sex marriage ruling.

It may sound simple enough to offer benefits to all married couples now regardless of sexual orientation, but in recent years, many companies have instituted policies to provide benefit coverage to unmarried same-sex partners in domestic partnerships or civil unions. Are these policies now pointless?

For those companies,  the idea was to provide equal coverage for those who couldn’t legally marry and to account for the different and ever-changing marriage policies across the country (prior to the Supreme Court decision, 37 states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage, leaving 13 states that did not).

Now that same-sex couples are allowed to marry everywhere in the U.S., should companies phase out same-sex domestic partner and civil union benefits?

There are two scenarios to consider when answering this question:

1. If a company provides coverage to both opposite-sex unmarried partners and same-sex unmarried partners, employers may want to leave those policies in place, as they have already been covering those who have the opportunity to marry but have chosen not to. Recognizing that some employees prefer not to marry, these companies will likely continue to offer unmarried partnership benefits to all. This may require separate administration, reporting and ultimately expense, but the value of the benefit to retaining and attracting employees may be worth it.

2. However, if a policy provides coverage to same-sex unmarried partners only, employers may choose to eliminate such policies for the sake of fairness, since marriage is now an option for all of their employees. This means that unmarried couples previously receiving benefits must marry to continue to do so. Phasing out those programs, thus pushing couples to marry on a timeline may be a delicate matter, but it may also be the right choice for a company, since reverse discrimination lawsuits by opposite-sex couples could be a factor if policies are left in place.

On the other hand, it may be beneficial to keep domestic partnership benefits in place. Most U.S. states do not have anti-discrimination laws in place to protect employees, leaving the door open for workers to be fired for their sexual orientation. Keeping domestic partnership benefits in place can protect those employees from discrimination, since they will not have to publicly get married and “outed” for benefits (domestic partnerships are most often private, whereas marriage certificates are public).

If your company is currently offering domestic partnership benefits in either of these ways, it’s time to start making decisions about the future of your programs.

There are a number of routes to take, and it is important to choose a path rather than ignoring the possible effects of this ruling. Ultimately, you want to maximize your company’s ability to make your employees happy while balancing what makes financial sense. Your relocation program is a key player in that employee satisfaction – make sure it evolves with the ever-changing landscape around us.

Free Consultation and Advice  What does the recent same-sex marriage court ruling mean for your relocation  program?  Speak to one of our experts to find out more about the coming changes and what  makes sense for the future of your relocation program. Contact Us

Topics: employee relocation, relocation policies, same-sex marriage, benefits, court ruling

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Dual-Career Assistance: Are You Doing Enough?  As the number of dual-career couples in the workforce continues to rise  globally, employees are factoring in a spouse or partner's career when asked to  relocate by their company. Does your policy take this into account? Should it? Download Now

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