Employment benefits, also known as employee benefits, refer to non cash and cash benefits distributed from an employer to an employee, as part of the employee’s compensation. Employment benefits is a rather broad term that covers many different things that could be considered to be benefits. An employee benefits package could include:

  • Medical insurance;
  • Dental insurance;
  • Life insurance;
  • Pension plans;
  • Disability provisions; and
  • Company sponsored vehicles or work clothes.

Some employee benefits could have various effects on the tax reports of employers as well as employees. How the benefits are classified is what determines this. Some types of employment benefits are referred to as fringe benefits. Fringe benefits are benefits that employees receive resulting from their employment, but are provided by someone other than their employer.

Under state and federal laws, some employment benefits are legally required. An example of this would be family leave, medical leave, unemployment insurance, and pregnancy leave. Other types of employment benefits are not mandatory by law, and are to be negotiated between the employer and the employee. 

Generally, it is the employer who presents the employee with various benefits options. Then, the parties negotiate the terms under which the benefits are to be distributed to the employee. This is usually done before employment begins. 

The results of negotiations are finalized in some sort of employment contract, and may need to be renegotiated periodically as the needs of the employee and the company change.

How Does Marriage Affect Employment Benefits?

Typically, employment benefits are only available to individual employees of a specific company. However, there are some specific instances in which the spouse of an employee is entitled to share in their spouse’s employment benefits. 

As an example, many state and federal laws require employers to provide benefits related to family and medical leave. Some laws treat certain employee benefits in marriage, such as pensions and retirement plans, as communal assets. 

Employers frequently choose to extend benefits to their employees’ spouses as part of the working arrangement. An increasing number of employers have recognized the needs of their employees, and allow their spouses to share in certain benefits and privileges. 

Conversely, getting married can sometimes negatively affect an employee’s eligibility for some benefits. This is because marriage can often alter a person’s financial status, which could then render them ineligible for certain government programs. Examples of such programs include Medicaid and children’s health insurance programs.

What Types of Benefits are Available to the Spouse of an Employee?

It is largely up to the employer to determine which benefits can be extended to the employee’s spouse. Some of the most common types of employment benefits in marriage include:

  • Insurance plans, including medical, dental, health, and life insurance packages;
  • Family, medical, and pregnancy leave;
  • Pension and retirement plans;
  • Worker’s compensation or lost wages on behalf of an incapacitated or deceased spouse; and
  • Minor benefits which could include access to company events, property, vehicles, or equipment.

Most commonly, an employee’s spouse will only receive partial benefits. An example of this would be employers extending partial health insurance to the spouse of an employee, as opposed to the full health insurance the employee receives. 

Additionally, many employers are now offering benefits to employees and their domestic partners, or those in same sex marriages. Many state laws are granting employment benefits for domestic partners as well.

What If My Employer Has Denied My Spouse Benefits They are Entitled To?

A spouse may receive employment benefits through their spouse in one of two ways:

  1. By requirements as listed in state or federal law; or
  2. Through a personal employment contract. Therefore, if an employer withholds employment benefits to a spouse who is entitled to receive those benefits, the employer may be held liable for a violation of law, or breach of contract.

The most common example of an employer denying a spouse benefits involves an employer failing to follow the guidelines concerning pregnancy leave. Pregnancy leave, also known as maternity leave, is regulated by United States labor law. Federal law mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for new parents, without the threat of job loss, if they work at a company with more than 50 employees. 

Additionally, many states have extended federal labor laws concerning pregnancy leave to companies with less than 50 employees. Because pregnancy leave is federally and state regulated, an employer who denies their employee pregnancy leave to care for their spouse, could face legal consequences. For example, the employee could initiate a civil lawsuit against the employer, which could result in the employer having to compensate both the employee and their partner for their losses. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Disputes Concerning Employment Benefits in Marriage?

As can be seen, there are a variety of employment benefits that extend to an employee’s spouse during marriage. Additionally, the laws governing employment law and labor law vary by state. 

Therefore, if you are in a situation where an employee has denied you employment benefits that you are rightfully due, then it is in your best interests to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable employment law attorney

An experienced employment law attorney can review your employment contract, as well as inform you of your rights under federal and local law. Finally, they can represent you in court, as necessary. 

Additionally, if you are in a situation where you and your partner are separating, and employment benefits are involved, you should immediately contact an experienced family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can help ensure that you and your partner’s employment benefits are correctly handled throughout and after your separation.