Do Partners Receive Equal Health Insurance and Retirement Benefits?

This is another question that is not as simple to answer as you’d think (that’s the law for you).

The short answer is……it depends (this is also known as the lawyer’s answer). 

You need to know whether the employer is private or public and what type of plan the employer offers.

Of course, if you work for the government, you’re in luck. All government employers must provide civil union partners the same retirement, health insurance and employment benefits which are offered to spouses.

But when it comes to private employers, the question isn’t as easily answered.  First, you need to find out what types of plans your employer offers. This is because there’s a federal law called ERISA which must be taken into consideration in deciding whether partners will receive the same benefits as do spouses. If your employer has a pension or 401(k) retirement plan, ask whether the plan is covered by ERISA and whether it’s insured. ERISA contains a provision that supersedes state laws relating to retirement and health insurance plans. Since federal law does not recognize civil unions, the issue of whether a partner will be entitled to the same retirement plan benefits as a spouse depends upon the exact type of plan.

Also, when it comes to health care benefits, some employers may not be required to provide equal benefits to spouses and partners. This may be the case if the benefits are self-funded or funded through a trust. Also, in that situation domestic partners may not have the legal right to survivor benefits.

On the other hand, for employment benefits other than retirement or health insurance, most private employers are required to provide these to partners and spouses equally. For example, benefits such as parental leave, funeral leave and relocation policies must be afforded both to partners and spouses.

To learn whether a retirement or health care benefit will be extended to a civil union partner, the employee must obtain this information directly from the employer. Also, it’s important to know that even if an employer is not legally required to extend benefits to partners, some voluntarily choose to do so.