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New York Law Expands Bereavement Leave to Same-Sex Partners

September 2010

On August 31, 2010, New York Governor Paterson signed into a law an amendment to the New York Civil Rights Law, which requires New York employers to provide employees who are in same-sex committed relationships the same bereavement (or funeral) leave as is provided to married employees. Under the new Section 79-n of the Civil Rights Law, an employer who offers its employees bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, or the death of the parent, child or other close relative of the spouse, must now offer bereavement leave for the death of a same-sex partner, or the death of the parent, child or other close relative of the same-sex partner.

The new law does not require an employer to provide bereavement leave; rather, it ensures that if bereavement leave is offered to employees as a benefit, then an employee who is in a same-sex committed relationship is permitted to use bereavement leave in the same manner as if the employee’s partner were his or her spouse. Under the law, “same-sex committed partners” are defined as those who “are financially and emotionally interdependent in a manner commonly presumed of spouses.” The legislative summary of the law provides that “[a] committed relationship is defined as a long-term relationship characterized by emotional and financial commitment and interdependence.”

While New York recognizes the union of same-sex couples who legally marry outside of New York, legislation to permit same-sex marriages within the state was defeated in December 2009. As such, this new law is a measure to provide enhanced rights to those same-sex couples who have not left New York to marry in another jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages.

However, the law provides little guidance as to how an employer may determine and verify that an employee requesting leave is in a same-sex committed relationship without overstepping legal boundaries. It remains to be seen whether further guidance will be forthcoming to elucidate an employer’s responsibilities and permitted actions under this new law.

The new law takes effect 60 days from the date of enactment – on or about October 29, 2010. In preparation, New York employers should update handbooks and personnel policies to reflect the new legal requirements and benefits offered to employees in same-sex relationships.

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For more information, please contact:
Catherine P. Wells ¦ Member of the Firm ¦ (973) 530-2051 ¦ Email cwells@wolffsamson.com
Margaret O’Rourke Wood ¦ Member of the Firm ¦ (973) 530-2063 ¦ Email mwood@wolffsamson.com
Denise J. Pipersburgh ¦ Associate ¦ (973) 530-2090 ¦ Email dpipersburgh@wolffsamson.com