Employee Benefits for Same-Sex and Unmarried Couples: Legal Considerations

Navigating DOMA, ERISA, COBRA, FMLA, Tax Issues and Evolving State Law

Recording of a 90-minute premium CLE webinar with Q&A

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Conducted on Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Recorded event now available

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Course Materials

This CLE course will instruct practitioners on the changing and often conflicting state and federal laws affecting same-sex and unmarried couples' benefits. The panel will discuss legal trends and legislation and outline best practices for counseling employers on benefits for same-sex and unmarried couples.


Insuring and compensating same-sex and unmarried couples presents unique challenges for employers. As of 2012, a number of states have changed their laws affecting same-sex couples through judicial action, legislation and referendums by voters.

Currently, federal law does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage and benefit eligibility under ERISA, FMLA and COBRA, as well as federal tax treatment of employee benefits.

Employers may voluntarily provide benefits to same-sex couples, but doing so raises federal and state tax questions. Attorneys and other advisors must carefully draft benefit plans and consider states that recognize same-sex unions as well as the effect of DOMA.

Listen as our panel of benefits attorneys guides you through the changing statutory and regulatory maze affecting employment benefits for same-sex marriage and civil union partners. The panel will offer best practices and tax considerations for employers wishing to offer benefits to these employees and their families.



  1. Differences between marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions
    1. DOMA
    2. State law 2012 updates
  2. Employer obligations in states recognizing civil marriages
  3. ERISA benefits, COBRA, FMLA and federal tax issues
  4. Best practices for offering benefits and drafting plans


The panel will review these and other key questions:

  • What same-sex relationship benefits are required or prohibited under federal and state laws?
  • What types of same-sex relationships are recognized under state laws?
  • What are the obligations of employers in states that permit same-sex unions?
  • What are the federal tax consequences of offering domestic partner benefits?

Following the speaker presentations, you'll have an opportunity to get answers to your specific questions during the interactive Q&A.


Joseph S. Adams
Joseph S. Adams

McDermott Will & Emery

He focuses his practice on employee benefits and executive compensation matters for public, private and tax-exempt...  |  Read More

Brian J. Tiemann
Brian J. Tiemann

McDermott Will & Emery

He focuses his practice on a variety of employee benefits matters related to pension plans, 401(k) plans, employee...  |  Read More

Todd A. Solomon
Todd A. Solomon

McDermott Will & Emery

He focuses his practice on designing, amending, and administering pension, profit sharing, 401(k), 403(b) and employee...  |  Read More

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