Q. What new laws should employers be aware of relating to domestic partners?

A. Two laws affecting domestic partners took effect in California on January 1, 2005. The first, the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, requires that registered domestic partners of employees be provided the same rights and benefits offered to spouses. Note that this law only impacts rights and benefits provided by state laws, not those that a private employer voluntarily chooses to provide. For example, the new law requires employers covered by the California Family Rights Act to allow eligible employees to take leave not just for the serious health condition of a spouse, parent or child, but also a registered domestic partner. However, where the employer chooses to offer benefits that are not mandated by state law, such as allowing bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, the new law does not expand that obligation to apply to registered domestic partners.

The second law, the California Insurance Equality Act, requires group health plans and all forms of insurance to provide equal coverage to the registered domestic partners of employees on the same terms and conditions that apply to spouses. Employers are advised to consult with their labor counsel and insurance providers to guarantee compliance with these new laws.