Do Your Benefits Plan Documents Define Spouse Correctly?

bigstock Wedding Rings 3092825 - Do Your Benefits Plan Documents Define Spouse Correctly?During the summer of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of United States v. Windsor and subsequently ruled that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act—also known as DOMA—was unconstitutional. This portion of the act had previously prevented the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples, even when those couples lived in states that had legalized same-sex marriage. At the time of the ruling, this included 12 states plus the District of Columbia. The re-legalization of same-sex marriage in California—also by the Supreme Court—soon increased that total to 13.

For employers, the United States v. Windsor decision meant changes to employee benefit plans. These changes primarily related to the definition of spouse—something every benefits plan should cover—though it has impacted a few other plan procedures and policies as well. If you’ve yet to review your plan documents to correct related issues, consider the following:

  • If your company operates in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized, federal laws require you to treat same-sex and opposite-sex spouses equally when spousal benefits are offered.
  • In states recognizing same-sex marriage, employees no longer have to pay federal income taxes on your contribution to a same-sex spouse’s medical, dental or vision coverage. Additionally, your worker’s can make contributions to a same-sex spouse’s coverage on a pre-tax basis under an appropriate plan.
  • Businesses in states recognizing same-sex marriage must offer COBRA health insurance continuation coverage to same-sex spouses.
  • If you have an employer pension plan and operate in a state recognizing same-sex marriage, it must pay surviving-spouse annuities to same-sex spouses.
  • If you’re offering a 401(k) as part of your benefits plan in a state recognizing same-sex marriage, it must pay death benefits to same-sex spouses if they are beneficiaries.
  • Companies in states recognizing same-sex marriages must allow employees to take family and medical leave to care for an ill same-sex spouse.

More than a year after the DOMA ruling, it is still unclear whether businesses within states that do not recognize same-sex marriage need to adjust their benefits plan policies to comply with the new federal definition. It appears these employers can choose either approach (to recognize same-sex marriage or not to do so) but their benefits plan documentation needs to explain their chosen definition of spouse clearly.

Guidance issued by the United States Department of Labor in September 2013 would seem to indicate that choosing to recognize same-sex marriages within your benefits plan could be the most prudent decision. It stated, “The term ‘spouse’ will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages.”

Would you like assistance reviewing your benefits plan language? We’d love to help. Please contact us anytime you require additional insight into benefits planning and procedures.

Enhancing Your Wellness Program on the Cheap

bigstock Light Meal At Work 55920617 - Enhancing Your Wellness Program on the Cheap

A 2012 study conducted by Aflac, the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the U.S., found that many of today’s workers value workplace wellness efforts. In fact, 28 percent stated that company-sponsored tools to improve health and lifestyle yield greater job satisfaction. Other research has provided statistics on workplace wellness benefits for employers. One analysis of multiple published studies found workplace wellness programs result in an average 28 percent reduction in sick days. They also reduced health costs by 26 percent and workers’ compensation claims by 30 percent.

If you’re not achieving these types of results, it may be time to improve your workplace wellness program. Doing so doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. Consider these enhancements you can make on the cheap.

Nail down a strategy.

As Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Haphazardly throwing together a wellness program without determining exactly what you want it to accomplish—and the best methods to use to reach those goals—is never going to be very effective. Instead, think about the biggest health concerns in your workplace (you may want to survey your employees) and create a three- to five-year plan to address them.

Spend for data.

While you can develop a workplace wellness program that doesn’t cost a dime, spending a portion of even a small budget on data collection can be worth it. For example, hiring a vendor to conduct screenings will help you establish a baseline on the health and fitness level of your employees. Periodic re-screenings will help you gauge their progress and target new areas for improvement.

Take full advantage of your partners.

If you’ve hired a wellness program provider, solicit his ideas and consider his recommendations. You’re paying for his experience and expertise, so use it. Tap into your other benefits providers—from health insurers to 401(k) managers—as well. As part of their service, they may provide free resources you can use to enhance your wellness program, such as online educational tools.

Use free resources provided by government and non-profit organizations.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created the National Healthy Worksite Program, which you can access online. You’ll find information on training opportunities, training materials, and other tools and resources you can use when enhancing your workplace wellness program.


Make the most of key health areas.

If you want to get the biggest bang for your wellness dollar, focus on areas of health in which small changes often yield big results. These include increasing your employees’ physical activity and improving their nutrition. For example, you might encourage them to move more with daily-steps competitions, short exercise breaks or setting up an on-site gym. You could swap healthy snacks for junk food in the office vending machine, organize a company-wide weight loss challenge, or distribute a newsletter with healthy-eating tips and recipes.


Whether you want to fine-tune an existing wellness program to produce better results or have yet to add this valuable supplemental benefit to your company’s roster, I can help. Contact me today for more information on creating and managing your program.