New California Law Affects State Taxation of Employer Tax Gross-Ups for Domestic Partners

By , and on November 7, 2013

The California state legislature recently enacted a law that may affect the taxation of benefits an employer provides to same-sex domestic partners in the state. California AB 362 excludes from gross income for California state income tax purposes the amount of any tax gross-ups paid by an employer to an employee for benefits for that employee’s same-sex spouse or domestic partner. The law was approved by California’s governor on October 1, 2013, and is effective immediately through January 1, 2019.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in U.S. v. Windsor that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional (see “Supreme Court Rules on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8” for more). Section 3 of DOMA had provided that, for purposes of all federal laws, the word “marriage” means “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and the word “spouse” refers “only to a person of the opposite-sex who is a husband or wife.” Subsequent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Department of Labor guidance clarified that, as a result of Windsor, favorable federal tax treatment of spousal benefit coverage would extend to all same-sex couples legally married in any jurisdiction with laws authorizing same-sex marriage, regardless of whether the couple currently resides in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized (see “IRS and DOL Guidance Clarifies Employee Benefits Impact of Supreme Court’s DOMA Ruling” for more information).

As a result of Windsor and the subsequent IRS guidance, the impact of California AB 362 appears fairly limited. Pre-Windsor, some employers provided a federal tax gross-up on the imputed value of coverage provided to an employee’s same-sex spouse or domestic partner. Post-Windsor, same-sex married couples in California no longer need a tax gross-up for either state or federal tax purposes because they no longer have to be taxed on the value of the coverage provided to their spouse. Because of this treatment, application of California AB 362 would be limited to a situation where an employer provides a federal tax gross-up to an employee who is in a California-registered domestic partnership. Such a gross-up, which would have been taxable under prior state law, is now no longer taxable in California. Employers in California will need to update their payroll and tax procedures accordingly. Employers both inside and outside of California that previously provided tax gross-ups may find it desirable to revisit their gross-up policies in light of the Windsor decision and the IRS guidance.

Brian Tiemann
Brian J. Tiemann counsels public and private companies on a broad range of employee benefit matters, including matters related to pension plans, 401(k) plans and executive and incentive compensation. He advises plan fiduciaries with respect to their fiduciary duties, investment policies and alternative investments. He also advises multinational clients on global employee benefits matters, particularly with respect to global incentive compensation plans. Brian has extensive experience negotiating investment management agreements and service provider agreements. Read Brian Tiemann's full bio.


Jacob Mattinson
Jacob M. Mattinson focuses his practice on employee benefits and matters related to 401(k), 403(b), pension, executive compensation, health care reform, and cafeteria and welfare plans. Jacob assists clients in drafting employee benefit plan documents and amendments. He represents clients in matters before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US Department of Labor (DOL) and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation with respect to plain qualification issues. Read Jacob Mattinson's full bio.


Todd Solomon
Todd A. Solomon is the head of McDermott’s Benefits, Compensation & Employment Practice Group. Todd focuses his practice on designing, amending and administrating pension, profit sharing, 401(k), employee stock ownership and 403(b) plans, as well as nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements. He also counsels privately and publicly held corporations and tax-exempt entities regarding fiduciary issues under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employee benefits issues involved in corporate transactions, executive compensation matters and the implementation of benefit programs for domestic partners of employees. Read Todd A. Solomon's full bio.

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