A Description of Domestic Partner Benefit Policies of State, County, and City Governments
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The City of Berkeley was the first public employer to offer domestic partner benefits more than 20 years ago. Today, more than 3,500 public and private employers offer some sort of domestic partner benefits. Domestic partner benefit policies are offered by some employers to allow employees some level of benefit for their domestic partners. These benefits began and have increased in use in part due to the absence of legally recognized same-sex marriage. The composition of these benefit policies varies greatly and no clear description of the content of policies prevails in the literature. This variety extends beyond the actual benefits available into requirements, qualification, and documentation demands. The purpose of this research is to describe domestic partner benefits in state, county, and city government. The literature does not provide a particular framework to describe the policies or any detail which elements are part of existing policies. The intent of this research was to develop a framework from the literature and then measure actual policies in use by government entities for the presence of those elements. Content analysis was the research methodology used and a coding scheme that included five categories was used. Three of the categories are developed around the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA Welfare Benefits made up one category including: health, dental, and vision insurance and COBRA-like benefits. The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985 requires employers to allow continuation of insurance benefits for 18 months after termination for employees and their spouses. COBRA-like benefits include benefits for domestic partners similar to those available to spouses under COBRA. The second category consisted of ERISA Retirement Benefits. Leave policies including sick, bereavement, and FMLA-like leave made up the third category, Non ERISA Benefits. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for time off to care for the birth of a new child or a sick spouse or parent. Requirements / Qualifications made up the fourth category that included eight possible requirements. Documentation made up the final category and included affidavits, registries, and termination notification requirements. The research indicates that most domestic partner benefit policies offer health and dental benefits, but do not usually include vision insurance or COBRA-like coverage. Provisions for domestic partners concerning retirement or contribution plans are rare. Likely requirements to receive benefits include: not married, shared residence, common necessities of life, minimum age of 18, and not related by blood closer than would bar marriage. Intent to remain together indefinitely and same-sex only are less probable. Intimate relationship requirements are also unlikely. Additionally, an affidavit is an expected requirement. Notification to the employer if the relationship terminates is also likely.