When the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, amendments were made to the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 in order to make it clear that the status of a civil partner is comparable with that of a spouse. The effect is to enable a civil partner who is treated less favourably than a married person in similar circumstances to bring a claim for sexual orientation discrimination.
Employers must treat married employees and civil partner employees in the same way. For example, an employer who makes a benefit available to the spouse of an employee (such as private health care) must make the same benefit available to an employee’s civil partner.
The Regulations make it clear that more favourable benefits, such as pension survivor benefits, can be conferred on civil partners and married persons to the exclusion of others who do not have such a status. The existing exemption allowing married people to be awarded more favourable benefits remains in respect of service which predates the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act.
The civil partner of a person with a child under six years old, or a disabled child under 18, also has the right to request flexible working arrangements. The employer has a duty to consider seriously the request by the employee to change his or her working pattern.
The civil partner of the mother of a child is entitled to receive statutory paternity pay and to take statutory paternity leave in respect of that child. Where civil partners adopt a child together, one partner is entitled to take adoption leave and receive statutory adoption pay and the other can take paternity leave and receive statutory paternity pay.
In addition, all employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependant and not to be dismissed or victimised for doing so. The emergency must involve a dependant who is a child, parent, husband, wife, partner or other household member or somebody for whom the employee has primary caring responsibility. This right also includes civil partners.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has published useful guidance, entitled ‘Sexual Orientation and the Workplace’, which covers the Civil Partnership Act and the connected amendments to the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.