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Acas alerts employers to new law on same-sex relationships rights

Friday 02 December 2005

The new law coming in on 5 December on Civil Partnerships mean that employers will need to look at their systems and processes to ensure they are treating staff fairly and, just as importantly, make them aware of their new rights.

Sexual orientation and the workplace

The new legislation means that benefits provided to married employees and their spouses must be provided to employees who are civil partners and to their civil partners - for example survivor pensions, flexible working, statutory paternity pay, paternity and adoption leave, health insurance or time off before or after marriage / registration. There are no legal requirements to offer such benefits to couples of either the same or opposite sex who have not entered into a marriage or civil partnership. However, where benefits are made available to unmarried couples of opposite sex they must be extended equally to same sex couples who have not registered a civil partnership.

Employers should:

  • Review and revise all policies, guidance, forms and other material to reflect the new arrangements and make clear that wherever 'spouses' and 'marriage' are used that that includes 'civil partners' and 'civil partnerships'.
  • Let all staff know about these changes and remind them not to discriminate directly or indirectly on the grounds of actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Ensure that employees know how to claim any relevant benefits. Ensure that any occupational pension scheme gives the same benefits to civil partners as to widows and widowers.

  • Maintain confidentiality where employees want it. No-one should have their sexual orientation revealed or inferred by inappropriate disclosure of their status.
  • Avoid forcing people to identify themselves as either married or in a civil partnership. In most situations because the treatment given to civil partners and married people is the same, there should be no need for separate identification. However, some employers may want to record data for equality and diversity monitoring. In either case, any data which is held should be held confidentially and securely so that no-one's status can be inappropriately disclosed or deduced and procedures to access benefits should be similarly secure. There is no legal duty for employees to inform their employer of registration of a civil partnership.

Rita Donaghy, Acas Chair said:

"This is a significant change. The Civil Partnership Act creates a new legal relationship which for the first time recognises same-sex relationships by giving parity of treatment with married couples across a wide range of legal issues. This has implications for employers. For example, if you are making a benefits package like private health care available to the spouse of an employee, you now need to make it available to any civil partners of employees too.

"This is straightforward enough, but managers should also think about the sensitivities of the situation - employees should not be singled out via a separate system and they may need help to understand these changes and the implications in terms of benefits available to them or their civil partner.

"The wise employer will have already reviewed their internal processes and anticipated the changes needed but for those who have not Acas can help. The best practice guidance on our website provides a good starting point and those with individual queries can call our helpline for more help."

Notes to editors

1 The Acas helpline - 08457 47 47 47 is open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

2 Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.

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