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6 Misconceptions In Companies that Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

JULIE LILLEGREN
Communications Specialist at HNI

We're seeing an uptick in companies that offer domestic partner benefits, but this is still fairly new for many organizations.  

If you choose to extend eligibility to domestic partners within any of your plans, it is important to nestcommunicate with employees so that they understand exactly who may be covered and what they get coverage for (keep in mind any state-specific domestic partnership benefits, too).  

We're finding a number of misconceptions around this topic with companies that offer domestic partner benefits. Check with your insurance carriers for the details of your specific plans, but a few things that often surprise people include:     

1. Domestic partnership isn't only for same-sex couples.

Depending on the state you live in and the specifics of your plan, if an employee has lived with their significant other for at least a year, they are usually eligible to enroll them under their benefits (regardless of marital status or gender) as a domestic partner. Defining domestic partners is usually met by the following criteria:

  • Meets a certain minimum age (ex: 18 or older)
  • Unmarried
  • Not related by blood to employee
  • In a relationship for a certain duration (ex: one year) with the employee
  • Cohabiting with employee
  • Financially interdependent

2. Employees need proof to enroll a domestic partner.

To enroll a domestic partner, your plan will usually require some form of proof that the appropriate criteria are met.  

What are some of the ways to "prove" domestic partnership? Items such as receipts and bills that show both individuals share financial responsibility, notarized documents, and even filed domestic partnership agreements from your city clerk can all be acceptable forms of proof.

However, employers should require the same documentation for same-sex spouses as for different-sex spouses. For example, same-sex spouses should not be required to provide a marriage certificate if different-sex spouses are not required to do so, either for enrollment or audit purposes.

Equal documentation requirements for enrollment is specifically required by law in some states that recognize marriage equality and some states that recognize Registered Domestic Partners or civil unions.

3. Domestic partners are entitled to some of the legal benefits of marriage, but not all.

Health insurance benefits provided to a domestic partner are considered taxable income, whereas those provided to married partners are not.  The transfer of assets between partners is often taxable as well. Couples must still file separate federal tax returns and aren't entitled to receive Social Security benefits from one another.

[Check out this article on Tax Treatment of Domestic Partner Benefits for more details on this.]

4. Same-sex domestic partnership is not the same as same-sex marriage for the purposes of your plan.

If your plan covers same-sex spouses, it doesn't necessarily cover same-sex domestic partners.

Spouses, regardless of being the same or opposite gender, often receive expanded benefit opportunities through an employee beyond those available to individuals in a domestic partnership. The decision to include domestic partnership benefits varies from employer to employer.

5. Domestic partners are eligible for qualifying life events.

Those big moments in an employee's life that impact benefits eligibility also apply to domestic partners. These events, which qualify an employee to change their benefit elections outside of the open enrollment timeframe, can include moments like:

  • Newly eligible domestic partner
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Death of a domestic partner
  • The employee's domestic partner gaining or losing coverage at his/her job
  • The employee's status changing from full-time to part-time status or vice versa

6. FMLA applies to employees in domestic partnership - sometimes.

FMLA benefits must be offered to all employees who have worked for their employer for 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours minimum in the past 12 months.  

Employees who qualify for FMLA  are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for things like:

  • The birth of an employee's child
  • Adoption or foster care placement of employee's child
  • Serious health condition of the employee that makes them unable to perform his/her job
  • The need to care for a son or daughter or parent with a serious health condition

Here's the sticky part with FMLA and companies that offer domestic partner benefits: an employee can't use FMLA to care for their domestic partner, whereas an employee who was married could use it to care for their spouse.

What other questions do you have about companies that offer domestic partnership benefits?

The devil is the details. Make sure to check with your insurance carriers to be clear on who is eligible for coverage and when.  Being aware of these details and communicating them ensures employees can take advantage of the benefits you offer and get coverage they need for them and their loved ones.   

What questions do you have about offering domestic partnership benefits?  Any surprises or misconceptions you've come across?  Let us know if the comments!

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