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Same Sex Spouse and Domestic Partner (Same- or Opposite-Sex) Benefits

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Policy Information
  • Issue Date: August 20, 2007
  • Primary Contact: Director of Human Resources
  • Responsible Member of Directorate: Vice President for Finance & Administration
  • Responsible Office: Human Resources
Policy Statement
Participants in WHOI benefits may enroll a variety of eligible family members for coverage. This includes same-sex spouses (currently only recognized in the state of Massachusetts) and same- or opposite-sex domestic partners and their dependent child(ren).



Reason for Policy
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is committed to attracting and supporting a diverse workforce.  WHOI recognizes that with a diverse workforce comes a broad array of personal circumstances and individual needs.  The definition of family for one employee can be different - but equally as significant - from that of another.  To reinforce its commitment, the Institution strives to offer employees and their family's equal benefits to the extent allowable.

Contents
Policy Information
Policy Statement
Reason for Policy
Who Should Be Familiar With This Policy
Related Documents
Contacts
Definitions
   Full-Time Employee
   3/4-time Employee
   Half-time Employee
Overview
   Eligibility for WHOI Benefits
   Same-sex Spouses and Domestic Partners
   Affidavit of Domestic Partnership
   Benefits Extended to Same-Sex Spouses and Domestic Partners
   Special Tax Considerations
   Divorce and Dissolution
Procedures
   Initiating Benefits for a Same-Sex Spouse
   Initiating Benefits for a Domestic Partner
   Making Changes During the Year
   Divorce
   Dissolution of Domestic Partnership
Forms
Approval


Who Should Be Familiar With This Policy
  • Employees eligible for WHOI benefits
  • Dependents and domestic partners of employees eligible for WHOI benefits
  • Human Resources Staff
  • Controller's Office Staff


Related Documents
Institution Policies

Other Documents

Healthcare

Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 on Employer Provided Health Plans

Paid Absences

Extended Leave of Absence

Disability Income

Dependent Care Subsidy Program

Education Loan - Children of Employees

Employee and Student Assistance Program

Survivor Benefits Program

 



Contacts
If you have questions about specific issues or need assistance with the interpretation of this policy, contact:

Benefits-Email............................................ BenefitsQA@whoi.edu
Benefits Services Specialist.........................   Ext. 3743 or 3763
Benefits Manager.......................................   Ext. 2217
Director of Human Resources......................   Ext. 3562



Definitions
These definitions apply to these terms as they are used in this policy.

Full-Time Employee An employee expected to work no less than eighty (80) hours per pay period for an indefinite period of time, but at least twelve (12) consecutive months
3/4-time Employee An employee expected to work at least sixty (60) hours per pay period but less than eighty (80) hours per pay period for an in­definite period of time, but at least twelve (12) consecutive months
Half-time Employee An employee expected to work at least forty (40) hours per pay period but less than sixty (60) hours per pay period for an indefinite period of time, but at least twelve (12) consecutive months.

Overview
Eligibility for WHOI Benefits If you are a regular half-time, ¾-time, or full-time employee, you are eligible for WHOI benefits. In addition to yourself, you may enroll your eligible family members, including:
  • Your spouse (same- or opposite-sex) or your domestic partner (same- or opposite- sex)
  • Your unmarried dependent child(ren) and the dependent child(ren) of your spouse or domestic partner, who are full-time students and/or federal tax dependents are eligible until the day before their 26th birthday. Children who lose tax dependent status before their 26th birthday or who stop attending school on a full-time basis are eligible for a two-year (tax year) coverage extension.
Same-sex Spouses and Domestic Partners A same-sex spouse is a person of the same sex who is legally married to a WHOI employee. Currently, same-sex marriage is recognized only in the state of Massachusetts. 

Domestic partners are defined as two people who meet all of the following requirements:
  • Are the same or opposite sex, and
  • Share a committed relationship and intend to remain in the relationship indefinitely, and
  • Share a primary residence, and
  • Are age 18 or older, and
  • Are not blood relatives, and
  • Are not related by marriage, and
  • Share joint responsibility for each other's welfare, and
  • Are each other's sole domestic partner, and
  • Are not legally married to each other or any other person, and
  • Are legally able to enter into a contract
In addition, domestic partners must have shared, for the previous 12 months, at least three of the seven indicators of emotional and financial interdependence listed below:
  • A joint lease, mortgage, or deed
  • Joint ownership of a vehicle
  • A joint checking or credit account
  • The designation of domestic partner as beneficiary of life insurance or retirement benefits
  • The designation of domestic partner as a beneficiary in a Will
  • A Domestic Partner Certificate from local government, if available
  • Shared household expenses
Affidavit of Domestic Partnership Before a domestic partner (and his or her dependent children) can be enrolled in WHOI benefits, the employee and his or her domestic partner must complete and submit an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership to the Human Resources Office attesting that their relationship meets the requirements as outlined above.

This information will be used by WHOI for the sole purpose of determining eligibility for domestic partner benefits and will be treated as strictly confidential insofar as the law allows.

Benefits Extended to Same-Sex Spouses and Domestic Partners The following benefits are extended to same-sex spouses and domestic partners (and their dependent children) of eligible WHOI employees:
  • Health Insurance (medical and dental)
  • Important to Note: According to the IRS, employees may not be reimbursed for health and/or dependent care expenses for their same-sex spouse or domestic partner (and/or their children) through a Flexible Spending Account unless they are considered the employee's tax dependents under IRS Code Section 152. Employees may want to consult a tax advisor to confirm if any person meets the criteria for tax dependents. More details on tax-qualified dependents are provided under ‘Special Tax Considerations'
  • Family Life Insurance
  • Beneficiaries - Same-sex spouses and domestic partners (and/or their dependent children) may be named as bene­ficiaries on an employee's policies for Life Insurance and Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) Insurance
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Work and Family Life Benefits, Inc. (Resource and referral services)
  • Education Loan for Children of Employees - Available for children of employees and/or the dependent children of their domestic partners
  • Leave Policies - Same-sex spouses and domestic partners (and their dependent children) are included under the definition of family member under the Extended Leave of Absence policy and the Paid Absences policy, which covers bereavement leave
  • Important to Note: Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not apply to same-sex spouses and domestic partners, the Institution provides FMLA-like coverage
  • Family Illness Days
  • Dependent Care Subsidy Program
Eligibility of employees and terms and conditions of the above benefits are governed by the current Institution policies and plan documents regarding provision of those benefits.

Special Tax Considerations Under IRS regulations, there are different financial implications for covering a same-sex spouse or domestic partner. If an employee is considering providing benefit coverage for his or her same-sex spouse or domestic partner and his or her dependent child(ren), they should be aware that that there are important tax implications to consider. Since requirements for an individual to satisfy the definition of a tax dependent under the Internal Revenue Code can be complex, employees should consult a tax professional for advice on their own personal situation.

According to IRS regulations, if an employee cannot consider their same-sex spouse or domestic partner and his or her dependent child(ren) as tax dependents for federal income tax purposes, the employee's annual cost for covering these individuals will be more than the cost for covering an opposite-sex spouse or the employee's own dependent child(ren).

If the employee is covering a same-sex spouse or domestic partner who is NOT considered a tax-qualified dependent, the cost of coverage for that individual will be deducted from the employee's pay on an after-tax basis. (The cost for covering the employee will continue to be deducted on a pre-tax basis.)

In addition, the portion of any medical or dental coverage paid for by WHOI for the employee's same-sex spouse or domestic partner and his or her child(ren) must be considered additional income in which the employee is required to pay federal and state tax (except Massachusetts for a same-sex spouse and his or her children). This additional income will be reflected on the employee's W2 form and additional taxes will be withheld from their paycheck.

If an employee's same-sex spouse or domestic partner (and his or her children) qualifies as a tax dependent as defined by the IRS, monthly contributions can be deducted from the employee's pay on a pre-tax basis and there are no tax consequences.

In order to have pre-tax deductions apply to coverage for a same-sex spouse or domestic partner (and his or her children), the employee must submit a copy of their most recent federal income tax form to the Human Resources Office.

Divorce and Dissolution Within 31 days of a divorce of a same-sex marriage, the employee must submit a divorce decree to the Human Resources Office.

Within 31 days of the dissolution of a domestic partnership, the employee must submit a Termination of Domestic Partnership form to the Human Resources Office that attests to this change in status.

In either the case of a divorce of a same-sex marriage or dissolution of a domestic partnership, the same-sex spouse or domestic partner will be given the opportunity to continue their coverage (and any dependent coverage).

Important to Note: Unless the same-sex spouse or domestic partner (and his or her children) are the employee's dependent as defined by the IRS Code, federal COBRA rights are not available and will not apply.  However, although federal COBRA rights may not apply, the Institution's health and dental plans do provide an option for continued coverage.

Procedures
Initiating Benefits for a Same-Sex Spouse Employees who wish to initiate the process for receiving benefits for their same-sex spouse (and his or her dependent children) must submit a legal marriage certificate to the Human Resources Office.
Initiating Benefits for a Domestic Partner Employees who wish to initiate the process for receiving benefits for their domestic partner (and his or her dependent children) must complete and submit an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership to the Human Resources Office.
Making Changes During the Year After the annual Open Enrollment period (or initial elections for new hires), changes during the plan year will be allowed only under one of these qualifying events:
  • Marriage, divorce, legal separation or annulment, or dissolution of a domestic partnership
  • Addition of a newly eligible domestic partner
  • Birth or adoption of a child (or placement of a child for adoption)
  • Death of a spouse, domestic partner, dependent 
  • Ineligibility of a dependent (i.e., child loses tax dependence before their 26th birthday or stops attending school on a full-time basis)
  • A change in spouse or domestic partner's employment, if it results in a loss or gain in eligibility for coverage
  • A move out of your health plan's network service area
If an employee wishes to make a change during the year, s/he must contact Human Resources within 31 days of the qualifying event.  If Human Resources is not notified within 31 days, changes must wait until the next Open Enrollment period.
Divorce Within 31 days of a divorce of a same-sex marriage, the employee must submit a divorce decree to the Human Resources Office.
Dissolution of Domestic Partnership Within 31 days of the dissolution of a domestic partnership, the employee must submit a Termination of Domestic Partnership form to the Human Resources Office that attests to this change in status.

Forms
The following forms may need to be completed in accordance with this policy.



Approval
Approved by:  James R. Luyten, Acting President and Director
Date:  August 20, 2007


Last updated: December 4, 2013
 


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