ERISA and DOMA: Where you live, where you work

When federal laws are enacted, they apply to all 50 states. For example, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act provides rules and requirements for qualified retirement plans provided by employers from 401(k)s to long-term disability insurance. Although this law applies to all 50 states equally, does it affect residents in Wisconsin the same way it does in Minnesota? The answer is, not always.

The striking down of another federal law shows just how federal laws are consistent in application, but not necessarily in specific results. When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the decision meant that same-sex spouses cannot be denied federal benefits provided to opposite-sex spouses. This doesn’t mean that every same-sex partner in the nation is treated the same way under ERISA.

In Wisconsin, same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. This means that benefits that are available to same-sex spouses in Minnesota, such as including a same-sex spouse in “surviving-spouse annuities.” Another federal law is the Family and Medical Leave Act. Where a same-sex spouse may be able to take time off to care for their injured spouse in Minnesota, the same may not be true in Wisconsin.

If this is not confusing enough already, let’s make it more confusing. What happens to those who may have gotten married in Minnesota, work in Minnesota but reside just across the border in Hudson? What about employers who have offices in Minnesota and Wisconsin?

Employment law cases can quickly become complicated under any set of circumstances. This is why it is prudent to hire an employment attorney who not only understands federal law and state law but also the intricacies of how they work together.

Source: Star Tribune, “Business Forum: A heads-up for H.R. on gay marriage laws,” Sara Gullickson McGrane and Ruth Marcott, July 7, 2013

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