The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave same sex couples the right to have their relationship legally recognised. Due to this, the employment rights of same sex partners who had become ‘civil partners’ were greatly extended.

However, even before this legislation came into force, same sex couples were already entitled to certain rights in relation to so-called ‘family friendly’ entitlements and these entitlements still exist.

When a child is born into a female same sex relationship, the woman who has given birth is naturally entitled to maternity leave and pay, subject to certain qualifying conditions, in the same way as a woman in an opposite sex relationship. The mother’s partner will be entitled to take paternity leave even if the couple have not entered into a civil partnership because someone who is the ‘partner’ of the mother i.e. a person who lives with the mother meets the eligibility criteria.

Where a child is adopted into a same sex relationship, one of the parents will be able to take adoption leave and receive statutory adoption pay, subject to other eligibility criteria. It is for the parents to decide which one that will be however the other parent may be entitled to paternity leave and pay.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave clarification to some terminology used in relation to family friendly rights, and same sex couples, whether they have entered into a civil partnership or not. They are entitled to request flexible working in relation to their partner’s child, or in relation to their caring responsibilities of their partner.

In general, where employment legislation referred to husband or wife in conferring rights on employees in relation to their spouse, the legislation was amended to include civil partners. This means couples who have entered into a civil partnership are also now capable of gaining the same rights.

Where contractual rights are concerned, it is potentially discriminatory to offer a benefit (e.g. health insurance or time off after their wedding ceremony) to your employees, that they, as a married individual, can benefit from if you do not also offer that benefit to employees who have entered into a civil partnership.

It is not a requirement that those benefits are offered to same sex couples who have not entered into a civil partnership. Although, where benefits are offered to employees in opposite sex relationships, these should also be made available to employees in same sex relationships.

Where previously it was open for an employee to claim they have been discriminated against on the grounds that they are married and not single, it is also now open for an employee in a civil partnership to claim they have been discriminated against because they are not single.

Want more information on same sex couples rights? Call our Employment Law Service on 0844 892 2772 and one of our dedicated advice team will be happy to help.