The United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges  requiring that all states recognize same-sex marriages is one of the more significant constitutional law decisions from the Court in many years. The impact of the decision extends in some ways to the workplace and to the day-to-day responsibilities of human resource and benefits professionals.

Of course, the immediate impact is the legalization of same-sex marriages in all states, regardless of where the marriage was performed. That means that all spousal privileges associated with employment must be extended to same-sex married couples. Examples include:

  • FMLA: Time off to care for a spouse with a serious medical condition and time off associated with a spouse’s military deployment.
  • Spousal participation rights in group medical or other employer-provided fringe benefits plans, including the right to COBRA coverage in the event of divorce or other qualifying event that triggers spousal election rights.
  • Application of employer policies with spouse-specific terms, such as bereavement or other time off policies.
  • Protections afforded by state or local law or employer-adopted policies that prohibit discrimination based on marital status.


Also, employers that have adopted policies extending benefits or other privileges to “domestic partners” may decide  to re-visit the need for those policies in light of the Court’s decision. In reviewing any existing policies concerning domestic partner benefits, be aware that some state and local governments have enacted laws mandating equal treatment for domestic partner relationships.