Employment Benefits in Marriage

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How Does Marriage Affect Employment Benefits?

Generally speaking, employment benefits are only available for individual employees of a company.  However, there are certain instances where the spouse of an employee is entitled to share in the employment benefits of their spouse. 

For example, many state and federal laws require employers to provide benefits with regards to family and medical leave.  These laws can significantly affect the eligibility of a worker’s spouse to receive benefits on behalf of their employed partner.  Some laws treat employment benefits in marriage as if they were communal assets (such as pension and retirement plans). 

It is also common for employers to choose to extend benefits to spouses of their employees as part of the working arrangement.  Such spousal benefits are usually part negotiated upon during hiring stages.  More and more employers are recognizing the needs of employees and allow their spouses to share in certain benefits and privileges.   

On the other hand, getting married can sometimes change an employee’s eligibility for benefits.  It is common for a marriage to alter the individual’s financial status and make them ineligible for government programs like Medicaid or children’s health insurance programs. 

What Types of Benefits are Available for Spouses of an Employee?

For the most part, it is largely up to the employer to determine which benefits may be extended to a worker’s spouse.  But even if employment laws do not cover certain benefits, an employee can always try to negotiate for such benefits with their employer through an employment contract.

Some common types of employment benefits in marriage include:

In many cases, the spouse will only receive partial benefits through their employed spouse.  For example, it is common for employers to extend partial health insurance to the wife or husband of a worker.  Also, more and more employees are beginning to offer benefits to workers involved in domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages.  Many state laws grant employment benefits for domestic partners. 

What if My Employer has Denied My Spouse Benefits that they are Entitled To?

There are two basic ways that a spouse can receive employment benefits through their spouse:  1) by requirements listed in state or federal law; or 2) through a personal employment contract.  If an employer withholds benefits to a spouse who is entitled to receive them, they can be held liable for a violation of law or contract principles. 

A common example of such a violation is where an employer fails to follow guidelines regarding pregnancy leave.  Pregnancy leave is highly regulated by federal statutes, and an employer may face legal consequences such as a fine for violating pregnancy laws.  They may also be subject to a civil lawsuit, and may have to compensate the couple for losses due to the violation.

Thus, it is very important for employees to fully understand their spouses’ rights under employment laws.  If they have negotiated for benefits with their employee, the results of the negotiation should be finalized into a written employment contract.  That way, the employee has a formal record of the agreement which can be enforced by law. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Disputes Involving Employment Benefits in Marriage?

In some cases, a lawyer may be indispensable when it comes to employment benefits in marriage.  The laws governing employment are very complex and can be subject to differences according to region.  If you need legal assistance, a lawyer can help you determine your spouse’s rights under employment laws.  Employment lawyers are skilled at applying the law and at drafting and reviewing employment contracts.     

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Last Modified: 10-10-2011 02:12 PM PDT

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