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FMLA and COBRA May Soon Extend Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

Last month, New York became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  With the increasing legalization of same-sex marriage, state and federal governments will now have to contend with whether same-sex couples will be allowed to enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples.  There are several bills introduced in Congress to address this issue.

Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently introduced a House bill which would extend COBRA benefits to same-sex couples and their partner’s children.  The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) provides employees the opportunity to continue health insurance coverage after losing their job.  Currently, COBRA benefits only extend to an employee, their legal spouse and legal dependents.  This bill would allow domestic partners and same-sex spouses to receive COBRA benefits as well.  These COBRA requirements would only apply to employers who already voluntarily provide health insurance benefits to same-sex couples.  The bill’s main goal is to protect the children of domestic partners from losing their health insurance.  Republicans oppose the bill, as they say it will increase costs for employers.

In addition, the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act was introduced into the Senate by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) which would allow an employee to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a domestic partner, same-sex spouse, or the family members of a domestic partner or same-sex spouse.  Currently, the FMLA does not require an employer to allow such leaves.  Employers should continue to keep an eye on the state and federal laws surrounding this issue.  If the laws change, you may need to change your workplace policies.  Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying and remaining up to date with state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.