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Right to common-law spouse's employment benefits

Region: Ontario Answer # 0125

Employee benefit plan coverage

If you are considered to be a common-law spouse under your spouse’s employee benefit plan, you may be entitled to benefits that would cover the cost of things such as prescription medication, life insurance and dental work.

Criteria for being covered

Employers can establish their own criteria for when a common-law relationship arises for the purpose of giving the spouse insurance coverage under the employee’s benefit plan. Some employment benefit plans permit common-law spouses to share in the plan if they have been living together for only six months; other plans may require that spouses have lived together for one, three or five years.

Prohibited grounds of discrimination

Government employees:  An employment benefit plan that denies coverage to common-law or same-sex couples may be considered discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation and, therefore, unconstitutional under the federal Canadian Human Rights Act. It is important to note that the Act is not applicable to matters between private parties, so only government plans containing such exclusions would be subject to constitutional challenges.

Private sector employees:  Discrimination in private sector employment is governed by the Ontario Human Rights Code. In fact, every province in Canada has its own human rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marital status and sexual orientation. Also, in circumstances where employees are part of a union, the collective agreement almost always contains specific provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status and sexual orientation. Therefore, exclusion of common-law or same-sex couples from the employee benefit plan would not only be a violation of the provincial human rights laws, but would also be a violation of the agreement.

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