The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) yesterday announced that same-sex couples legally married in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage will be treated as married for purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

The DOL’s announcement in Technical Release 2013-04 mirrors the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruling from August 29, 2013, which states that any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be recognized. Like the IRS ruling, the release does not extend recognition to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Although future guidance may offer some transitional relief to employers, the release appears to be effective immediately. Employers should be considering and implementing appropriate changes in payroll systems, notices, benefit elections, plan documents, and other matters to reflect the new rule.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Group regularly advise employers on providing benefits to same-sex couples. If you have questions about the ruling or its implications, please contact Diane A. Thompson at 424.204.4334 or, or Robert S. Kaplan at 215.864.8417 or


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