Private employers can provide to domestic partners many benefits, such as health insurance, family medical or bereavement leave, equal pension benefits, relocation expenses, or access to company facilities. While it’s hard to identify all employers providing benefits in Maine, they include L.L. Bean, Care Development of Maine, Fairchild Semiconductor, Idexx Laboratories, Inc., Energy East Corp., The Gale Group, Hannaford, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, Maine Medical Center, TD Banknorth Group, the University of Maine System, the University of New England, and Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby Colleges (see The Human Rights Campaign’s Employer Database, available at http://www.hrc.org/issues/workplace/equal_opportunity/search_employers.asp).
Even when employers provide these benefits, though, federal and state laws require different tax treatment of the benefits for domestic partners as compared to spouses. For example, an employee must pay federal and state income tax on the value of his or her partner’s health insurance benefits (unless the partner is a tax dependent), but a spouse does not (see e.g., Internal Revenue Code, Private Letter Ruling 9603011 (Jan. 19, 1996)). Partners do not qualify as spouses under federally-controlled Flexible Spending Accounts unless the partner is also a tax dependent.
As for pensions, under the Federal Pension Protection Act of 2006, employers may amend their 401(k) plans so that non-spouse beneficiaries may retain the asset as a retirement asset. If a plan is so amended, beneficiaries may “roll over” the 401(k) into an IRA depending upon the employee’s death whereas previous law required the beneficiary to take and pay income taxes on the 401(k) as a lump sum (see Human Rights Campaign, Pension Plans, available at http://www.hrc.org/issues/4821.htm).
However, other discriminatory aspects of federal law remain regarding pensions. A domestic partner has no right to sign off if his or her partner decides to name someone else as the beneficiary of a pension, although a spouse would have that right. In addition, a domestic partner has no right comparable to that of a spouse to sign off on his or her partner’s designation of another person for survivor benefits.