State Law Grants Registered Domestic Partners Right to Protected Leave

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My employee wants to take time off to take care of his ill, longtime live-in girlfriend. I know there are laws that allow time off to care for the “registered domestic partner” of an employee, but does my employee’s girlfriend qualify as one legally?

Many California laws, such as the California Family Rights Act and California’s paid sick leave and kin care laws, do provide protected time off to care for a registered domestic partner. However, being a “registered domestic partner” means more than just being a couple living together.

In California, registered domestic partners are those couples who have formally entered into a legal relationship by filing certain documents with the California Secretary of State. Couples who live together without such a legal filing are not entitled to the protections afforded to registered domestic partners.

Domestic Partners

In order to register as domestic partners, couples must be either:

• two individuals of the same sex; or

• two individuals of opposite sexes, but only where one or both of the individuals is at least 62 years old and eligible for certain Social Security benefits.

California’s registered domestic partner law was enacted before same-sex marriage was legal, and was intended mostly to expand many state-level legal rights to same-sex couples who filed the required legal paperwork.

The provision allowing for opposite-sex couples to register as domestic partners was created to allow widows and widowers to gain certain rights under California law without forfeiting federal Social Security benefits they might otherwise lose by remarrying.

If your employee and his girlfriend are both under the age of 62, then they could not legally have registered as opposite-sex domestic partners in California. Therefore, your employee would not be able to take protected time off to care for his girlfriend under any law that provides such time for registered domestic partners.

If one of them is 62 or older, you can inquire as to whether they have registered as domestic partners with the California Secretary of State, in which case your employee might be entitled to protected leave.

Local Ordinances

Note that some local ordinances may allow protected time off for unmarried couples to care for each other even if they have not registered as domestic partners.

• The City of Los Angeles sick leave ordinance allows an employee to take time off to care for “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”

San Francisco allows sick leave to be used, not only for certain family members and registered domestic partners, but also for a “designated person” named in writing in advance by the employee.


Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.

Staff Contact: Ellen Savage

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Ellen Savage
About Ellen Savage
Ellen Savage joined the CalChamber in 1990 and currently serves as an HR adviser. She has been assisting employers on the Helpline for almost 15 years. She was the editor of eight editions of the California Labor Law Digest and author of the CalChamber's California Hiring to Termination Guide. Her experience also includes practicing at a large Sacramento law firm and presenting at dozens of employment law seminars statewide. She holds a J.D. from Lincoln Law School.