Gay Marriage Sweeps U.S.: How Does It Affect The Workplace And You?

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On Tuesday, Florida becomes the 36th state to have legalized same-sex marriage, per a federal court order. The first marriage licenses have already been issued in Miami-Dade County, starting around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, January 5, 2015. Unless something changes drastically, it seems that gay marriage is here to stay in the vast majority of states. Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas all have had courts rule that gay marriage should be legal, but those cases are stayed. There are cases pending in pretty much every other state now, so more change is coming.

What does this mean for the workplace? How will employment laws, employers and you be affected? Here are some of the ways same-sex marriage will affect your workplace:
Family and Medical Leave: Because FMLA applies to leave for care of spouses, employers must grant leave for gay employees who are married. If you have a sick partner and are married, you may qualify for FMLA leave, assuming your employer is large enough and you've been there at least a year. Start gathering those forms and have them ready for your spouse's doctor to fill out so you can put in for leave once you're married if your partner is sick.

Pensions: Spousal benefits will have to be updated to include gay married couples. You will need to make sure you adjust any defined benefit plans if you want to include your new spouse.

Benefits: Health and life insurance will have to be updated to include spouses of gay employees. If your new spouse needs coverage, you need to contact HR to get them on the plan ASAP.

Marital status discrimination: While it still isn't illegal in Florida to discriminate based on sexual orientation, except in some counties and cities, it will be illegal to discriminate against employees just because you don't believe in gay marriage or don't like that they married a same-sex partner. If your employer starts treating you differently after your marriage, you may have a discrimination claim in Florida.

Sexual orientation discrimination: Announcing your marriage may bring more attention to your sexual orientation. Some states have prohibitions against sexual orientation discrimination. EEOC says that sexual orientation discrimination may also violate the legal prohibition against sex discrimination.

Tax filing status: Once you're married, you'll be able to update your tax filing status and employers will have to deal with updated W-4 forms with revised withholdings.

Confidentiality: If you have an agreement that says it can't be disclosed to anyone but your spouse, you may now disclose it to your married partner. This is one of the things I always have to caution unmarried couples, gay or straight, about. You could be severely sanctioned if you tell a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner about, say, how much severance you got. All they have to do to mess you up is tell the employer they know what you got and all hell will break loose. Once you're married, you can probably tell and not be sanctioned for it.

Privilege: I absolutely hate having to exclude gay partners from attorney-client meetings, but it's necessary so there's no waiver of attorney-client privilege. Once you're married, your spouse can attend even attorney-client meetings with your permission.

If you are thinking about getting married as same-sex marriage becomes legal in your state, have your plan in place as to how you will protect your spouse before you say, "I do." For employers (Florida employers, are you listening?) it's best to have your management-side lawyer start updating your policies and forms to make sure you aren't caught flat-footed as the law changes.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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