Published on December 11, 2013

PERSONNEL MATTERS: More firms offering same-sex partner benefits

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Business

By Matt Dunning, Crain News Service

CHICAGO (Dec. 11, 2013) — Nine out of 10 large U.S.-based companies reported offering comprehensive health benefits to their employees’ same-sex domestic partners in 2013, according to a survey published Dec. 9 by the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

As employers continue to adjust their group benefit programs in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June to partially overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), results of the Washington-based HRC’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index indicated that 90 percent of the 734 firms rated in the survey currently provide medical, dental, vision, dependent medical and COBRA benefits to their employees’ same-sex domestic partners—up slightly from 89 percent in the prior plan year. Sixty-eight percent of employers polled in the study offer comprehensive health benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners.

Additionally, 46 percent of employers reported offering health benefit plans to transgender individuals without exclusions for medically necessary care in their current plan year, compared with 42 percent in the 2013 survey.

Now in its 12th year, the HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index scores participating employers based on the degree to which their internal policies and operations—including nondiscrimination policies, benefit programs, organizational competencies and public commitment to equality—are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees.

The 734 employers rated in the 2014 study—comprised of 299 Fortune 500 businesses and 79 Fortune 1000 businesses, as well as 138 firms from American Lawyer’s top 200 legal firms and 218 additional employers—represent approximately 4.25 percent of all U.S.-based firms with 500 or more full-time workers, according to the 2012 U.S. Economic Census.

“This will go down in history as the year that corporate support for equality left the boardroom and reached each and every corner of this country,” Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, said in a statement released Dec. 9. “Not only do fair-minded companies guarantee fair treatment to millions of LGBT employees in all 50 states, but now those same companies are fighting for full legal equality in state legislatures, in the halls of Congress, and before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

<b>Retirement, ‘soft benefits’</b>

In addition to healthcare coverage, the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index surveyed employers on the extent to which they offered same-sex domestic partners equal access to qualified joint and survivor annuities or qualified pre-retirement survivor annuities under a defined benefit retirement plan.

Among the 57 percent of employers polled that offer defined benefit pension plans, 76 percent provide QJSA benefits to employees’ same-sex domestic partners, while 75 percent offer domestic partner access to QPSAs.

The Corporate Equality Index also polled employers on domestic partner access to certain voluntary or “soft” benefit programs, including employee assistance programs, bereavement leave, adoption assistance, supplemental life insurance and employee discounts. Sixty-nine percent of employers rated in the 2014 study reported they offer employees’ domestic partners equal access to all voluntary benefits available to opposite-sex spouses, compared with 65 percent in last year’s report.

<i>This report appeared in Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.</i>

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