Soon after the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on gay marriage, opponents proposed an amendment to the state Constitution that would stop same-sex couples from making it to the altar.
But whatever the outcome of the battle between supporters and opponents of same-sex unions, companies will still have to pay benefits under the state's Domestic Partnership Rights and Responsibilities Act, passed in 2003.
California employers provide registered domestic partners the same health benefits, and sick and family medical leave plans as those offered to married employees under the act, which requires employers to provide registered domestic partners the same legal rights as their married co-workers.
The law wouldn't be voided if same-sex couples were prevented from marrying by a state constitutional amendment.
Nevertheless, as same-sex couples rush to marry before an initiative is placed on the November ballot, labor and employment lawyers said employers will be adapting to an evolving workplace culture.
"The decision may have a bigger impact on the culture of the workplace than on workplace legal rights," said John Lien, a labor and employment attorney in the Los Angeles office of Reed Smith LLP. "It may change the vocabulary people use in the workplace, like people in a same-sex marriage would call their significant other spouse or husband or wife."
Employers are likely to roll out additional sensitivity training sessions for executives.
"There is an emotional reaction to same-sex marriages," said Lawrence Gartner, a partner in the Los Angles office of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP. "And employers would be wise to think that the reaction of some people to nontraditional marriages should be covered in their sensitivity training."
Labor and employment attorneys said there could be increase in the number of discrimination lawsuits filed.
"There may be an uptick in lawsuits in terms of sexual orientation discrimination just because the whole marriage issue has become a more publicized issue," Gartner said. "When the issue becomes more publicized, it does cause people to think, 'Is my treatment because of my sexual orientation?' "
Employers may want to review their health insurance plans, sick and family medical leave plans, and sensitivity training. Attorneys said they should all clarify the definition of spouse and marriage, and remove any gender-specific references to marriage.
"Even though employers are probably already equipped and prepared for the change in the law, I would still advise them to look at existing policies and training materials," said Beverly Frank, a labor and employment lawyer in the Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose LLP.
Supporters of gay rights are trying to prevent a measure prohibiting gay marriage from making the November ballot.
Last month, supporters of same-sex marriage filed a lawsuit claiming the proposed amendment is unconstitutional because it would not allow voters to change a ban on gay marriage via a voter initiative.
Lawyers representing groups that oppose same-sex marriage have asked the state's high court to reject a bid to remove the measure from the November ballot. It remains unclear if the justices will rule on the matter.
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