Generally, and unfortunately, if an employer offers health insurance coverage to the spouses of employees, they usually don’t extend the coverage to unmarried partners too. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employers are not required to offer health insurance to any employees, spouses, or "domestic partners" (this term is often used to include same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples, as well as common law marriages). ERISA also does not compel employers that provide health insurance for employees and legal dependents to extend coverage to domestic partners.
Nevertheless, thousands of employers across the country have begun offering domestic partner benefits in the last several years, and the number continues to grow. Employment experts predict that this trend will continue, as small companies start to follow the lead of large employers that have introduced domestic partner benefit plans in recent months.
In addition, some state and local laws have recently been passed in favor of domestic partner rights.
When benefits are offered to domestic partners, the level of coverage varies depending on the employer. Domestic partner benefits may include long-term care, group life insurance, family and bereavement leave, and most commonly, health, dental, and vision insurance. The definition of domestic partner may also vary from employer to employer. Some companies include same-sex couples, unmarried opposite-sex couples, and common law marriages. Others cover only same-sex partners on the grounds that opposite-sex couples can receive spousal benefits by getting married, while same-sex couples do not have this option. Regardless of how the term is defined, employers typically require domestic partners to sign an affidavit stating that they are in a lasting, committed relationship. They may also require that a couple live together for a specified period of time before they become eligible for domestic partner benefits.