Just days after the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same sex marriage, at least one media outlet is reporting that Iowa employers are scrambling to determine whether they need to adjust their employment policies to comply with the ruling. Of immediate concern are employee benefit programs that provide coverage for spouses, and policies governing family and medical leave.
An employee in Iowa is already protected from discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. However, that protection did not necessarily require an employer to extend benefits to a same sex partner in the same way it would the spouse of a married employee. The new ruling could change that requirement. To the extent an employer grants benefits to the spouse of an employee, spouse may now include a person of the same sex. It is important to note, however, that many employee benefits are governed by federal law, which is not necessarily impacted by the Iowa Court’s ruling.
Employers should also adjust their practices concerning Family and Medical Leave Act compliance. An covered employee under FMLA has the right to job protected leave to care for a "spouse" with a serious health condition. FMLA itself defines "spouse" as "a husband or wife as the case may be". However, the Department of Labor Regulations interpreting FMLA look to the law of the state where the employee resides to determine whether a person is a "spouse."
Employers are advised to consult with counsel and with their employee benefit provider when adjusting policies and practices to comply with the Court’s ruling.