California law regarding same-sex domestic partners.
October 19, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Are employers in California required to offer registered same-sex domestic partner health benefits if they offer benefits to married partners?

I am considering an offer from a company that doesn't currently offer same-sex domestic partner health benefits, although they do offer those benefits to married partners. The company is headquartered in another state, but I am curious about the state of the law here in California. I was under the impression that for state law purposes, registered same-sex domestic partners are equivalent to married partners.

They promise that when they do new benefit plans next year they want to include same-sex domestic partners, but in the meantime my partner is currently unemployed and gets health benefits through my current employer. If I take this new job I will have to buy him individual plan coverage on the open market until coverage is offered by the new employer. While I intend to use this as a negotiation tactic—they need to make my salary higher if they're not going to cover his medical expenses—I'd like to know if there are any real legal sticks I could theoretically use if push came to shove. Or is the notion that California domestic partnerships are really identical to marriage in all except name not really the case?
posted by nohat to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there an office location or will you be teleworking? If there's an office you may also wish to look into laws for that municipality; when I grew up in South Florida the area of Miami Beach enacted much stricter gay rights laws than the surrounding City of Miami or Dade County. If you're in an actual office you might also fall under a county umbrella as well as a state one.
posted by phearlez at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2010


According to the CA Secretary of State web page:

What are the financial or medical benefits of registering for the Domestic Partners Registry?

The rights and benefits for domestic partners can be found in the Family Code beginning with section 297. However, specific benefits are not listed in that Division of the Code, therefore you may wish to contact private legal counsel to assist you with your specific questions to ensure you receive accurate information pertaining to your circumstances.

But Equality California has this much better FAQ (PDF) which says:

Does my employer have to provide domestic partner benefits?

Under the California Insurance Equality Act (A.B. 2208), all health, auto, rental, disability, life, and all other insurance plans regulated by the California Department of Insurance are prohibited from treating registered domestic partners and heterosexual spouses differently. Therefore, all covered policies and plans must provide identical coverage to registered domestic partners and heterosexual spouses. So, for example, unless your employer is self-insured, if your employer provides health benefits to the heterosexual spouses of its employees, it will also have to provide the same coverage to the registered domestic partners of its employees. The California Insurance Equality Act went into effect on January 2, 2005 for group health insurance plans and on January 1, 2005 for other types of insurance. For more information about the California Insurance Equality Act, see In addition, failure on the part of businesses or employers to provide equal benefits to domestic partners may constitute unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, sex, or marital status, depending on the circumstances.

If your employer is a California or local government contractor, then they may be required to offer domestic partner benefits. For example, San Diego.
posted by Long Way To Go at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2010

Unfortunately, it's not a simple yes or no answer. Just because a company does business in California doesn't mean they're subject to all the laws of California. If it's a big company, there's a decent chance their health plan is self-funded. Also, since your company's headquarters are not in CA, it's very unlikely the plan was written out of CA. If the plan isn't written out of California, or if it's a self-funded plan, then it's not subject to CA state mandates. One or both of these things are true, which is why they're not required to provide domestic partner coverage.
posted by pecanpies at 2:35 PM on October 19, 2010

The company is not big enough to be self-funded. It’s a 2-year-old startup. They have opened an office in California where I would be working. I think the health plans are from the home state. Is it true that if the plan was written out of California than California laws don't apply? Don't California employment laws apply to anyone employed in California?
posted by nohat at 3:21 PM on October 19, 2010

I understand you're probably looking for another opinion, but I just wanted to chime in to point out that this isn't an employment law - if it were, any company doing business in CA would be subject to it. Insurance is a different animal. If the plan's not written out of CA, it's not subject to CA mandates.
posted by pecanpies at 3:30 PM on October 19, 2010

I believe you are correct—I am just surprised. I would expect the employer of anyone who is employed in California would be subject to California law. Does this mean that any employer in California could just write out-of-state policies to get out of having to comply with California law, or only those employers that are headquartered in another state?
posted by nohat at 3:44 PM on October 19, 2010

The insurance policy is written in the state where the company is headquartered and where the majority of employees will be covered. This is why California companies don't write out of state policies, the insurance companies won't do it. I can tell you from experience that insurance companies loathe covering people out of state, I'm not sure of all the reasons why but while working for an insurance broker I saw that rates would frequently go up if there were a lot of out of state employees.

I do know of companies that have different separate policies for different states but these are HUGE companies.
posted by magnetsphere at 5:19 PM on October 19, 2010

This document explains that under AB 2208 it's illegal for an insurance provider in CA to issue any insurance unless provides the same benefits apply to domestic partners as to married partners. So I guess that's the out your prospective employer has, their insurance company is outside CA.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:10 PM on October 19, 2010

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