Same-Sexing It Up with the Supremes…

What Will SCOTUS’s ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 Mean for Employers?

groom-gay-wedding-cake-topper-all-men-no-brideYou may or may not have noticed that Facebook is an unusually garish shade of red today.

People are changing their profile pictures and timeline headers to various red icons and duo-tone photos in support of gay marriage as the Supreme Court prepares to hear two landmark cases that could grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

While a ruling won’t likely come down until some time in June of this year, people are in a frenzy of speculation about the possible outcomes.

From an employer’s perspective, this could mean radical and swift changes in the way you administer your benefits—especially those provided to spouses.

Should the legal definition of “spouse” change in the states where you conduct business, you might soon have a surge in qualified life changes as employees celebrate their new unions and same-sex spouses become eligible for employer-sponsored benefits.

Many corporations – including big names such Apple, Goldman Sachs, Levi Strauss, Nike and Xerox – have signed a brief in support of Edith Windsor, who filed the challenge against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Our law firm, like a lot of large employers, have got any number of gay employees who are legally married in states where we have operations and Doma creates a real burden,” said Daryl Lapp, who signed the brief. “It’s very complicated to administer benefits when you’ve got people who are legally married under state law but not legally married under federal law. The second thing is just as a matter of employee relations. We feel that being forced to comply with Doma makes us the face of discrimination relative to our employees. We want to treat our employees equally and yet here is this federal law that effectively requires us to treat people in different ways.”

If the DOMA is found unconstitutional, more than 1,000 laws will be affected by the new definition of the term “spouse.”

As with all of the other workplace changes we’re facing in light of the Affordable Care Act, communications and strategy will be the key to guiding employees through these unfamiliar territories.

How are you preparing for the possible changes? Are you aware of the potential costs your company faces if required by law to cover same-sex partners with the same benefits currently provided to spouses? Are your medical and insurance vendors prepared for a surge in qualified status changes and new enrollments? What messaging will you draft to be proactive in supporting your employees who are newly eligible for benefits?