HR’s Guide to Building an LGBTQ-Friendly Workplace
June 21, 2019
Jill Garrison
Timer  Read Time: 7 minutes

Pride Month is a glorious display of rainbows, self-expression and corporate brands really going the extra mile to show that they support the LGBTQ community—at least, that’s how it’s been for the past decade. It’s no secret that times have changed, and brands are starting to recognize that inclusivity is good for business, which leads to a lot of “love is love” campaigns that can come off a little disingenuous.

At the end of the day, any Pride-themed marketing campaign is just that: marketing. Members of marginalized communities can easily tell the difference between sincerity and exploitation. The best way for organizations to celebrate and show true support for the LGBTQ community is to start right in their own backyard, by ensuring that their corporate policies, benefits and company culture are just as inclusive as that rainbow Twitter icon.

Despite shifting public opinion and increasing acceptance, true health care and workplace equity is far from a reality for most LGBTQ employees.

  • Nearly half of LGBTQ workers still fear being out with their sexual orientation at work, and more than half have experienced or witnessed anti-LGBTQ comments by coworkers.
  • Even with insurance, LGBTQ adults are more likely to delay medical care than straight men and women due to fears of discrimination and negative experiences at the doctor.
  • 68% of LGBTQ employees said their company could do more to support them at work.

Federal and state laws are lagging behind, or even working backwards in some cases, on LGBTQ protections from discrimination and assurance of equal access to benefits, but these protections and policies are becoming more of a “must-have” for organizations that want to attract top talent.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s 2019 Corporate Equality Index recognizes 572 major businesses that earned the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality” based on their comprehensive corporate policies, benefits and practices.

What are some of the benefits these companies incorporate that ensure health care and workplace equity for LGBTQ workers and their families?

Same-Sex Spousal Health Care Coverage

Same-sex couples have more access to employer-sponsored health insurance than ever before, which is a step in the right direction. However, the overall percentage of employees with such access is still lagging behind that of opposite-sex couples.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that although access to same sex-spousal coverage is increasing, it remains significantly less common than the offer of opposite sex spousal coverage. In 2018, 63% of employers offering health insurance to opposite-sex spouses also offered it to same-sex spouses, and that number is up from 43% in 2016. However, private companies still have the legal right to refuse to offer this benefit.

Kaiser also found that the larger the firm, the more likely they were to offer both opposite sex and same sex spousal coverage.

The HRC Foundation reports that most employers had an overall increase of less than 3.5% of total benefits costs when they implement partner benefits; this is a low-cost, high-return initiative that can make a world of impact for LGBTQ workers and their families.

Paid Leave and Paternity Benefits

To ensure inclusivity and avoid potential grey areas, paid leave policies should include specific language that applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex spouses, as well as domestic partners.

If employees with opposite-sex spouses are allowed to use paid sick leave or paid caregiving leave to care for their spouse, the same should be offered to same-sex spouses.

The same applies to bereavement policies. The International Foundation’s 2017 Paid Leave in the Workplace surveyfound that, on average, employers allow employees four days paid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse and three days for the death of a domestic partner.

The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees eligible workers up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave, but most new dads—only about 14%—do not have access to paid leave.

Limited leave policies disproportionately affect families that are adopting a child. Advance notice is not always an option during the adoption process, and the unpredictable adoption timeline is much easier to handle when parents can count on a paid leave policy rather than trying to save up vacation days.

In a 2018 SHRM survey of employers, just under 30% of respondents offered paid paternity leave, up from 21% two years earlier. However, many new fathers find that even for those companies that have gender-neutral parental leave policies, it’s more difficult in practice to actually take that time away.

Fertility Benefits

When it comes to family-friendly benefits, LGBTQ parents are often left out. Fertility benefits are usually created specifically for women who want to delay pregnancy to focus on their careers and require an actual diagnosis of infertility in order to be eligible.

In vitro fertilization is rarely covered by insurance, despite the fact that this is the only option for gay men wanting biological children. Current laws cover infertility treatments and testing, which excludes LGBTQ people from coverage because they don’t necessarily need infertility treatments, but they do need assisted reproductive technology.

According to Dr. Mark Trolice, director of Florida-based clinic Fertility CARE, most insurance companies don’t cover fertility treatments because of the cost. It typically costs up to $20,000 per round, and usually takes multiple tries to be successful. A gay couple would also need an egg donor and a surrogate, which puts the cost at over $100,000, and often involves travel costs for both the surrogate mother and the new parents.

Many LGBTQ employees take inclusive fertility benefits, or lack thereof, seriously into account when on the job hunt. Larger companies like Facebook have the ability to customize these benefits, but many insurers have a relatively narrow definition of who qualifies for infertility treatments if they’re even covered to begin with.

But some companies, like T-Mobile, have found a way to work around the complexities of insurance requirements by simply reimbursing up to a certain amount in expenses for any employee who’s going through the process of adoption or surrogate pregnancy.

Transgender-Inclusive Health Care Coverage

Unemployment among transgender and non-binary workers is higher (16%) than across LGBTQ people overall (13%), which is dramatically higher than the national average of 4%. The majority of U.S. states still lack employment protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation, but that doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t step up and create an inclusive workplace for these minorities.

22% of HR professionals surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said their health plans cover gender confirmation procedures, up from 8% in 2016. However, these benefits are more likely to be found at large employers—only 10% of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer trans-friendly health benefits, up from only 4% in 2016.

Trans-inclusive health benefits are a relatively low-cost investment that has an extremely high impact for those that benefit from them. Employers are starting to realize that trans-inclusive benefits aren’t all that expensive—and not just because only a small percentage of their workforces are likely to use them. The HRC Foundation finds that most employers report marginal increases to total benefits costs related to transgender-inclusive health care coverage— a fraction of a decimal point of cost calculations.

Gender confirmation surgeries differ in scope and specifications, giving patients a range of medical options to define transitioning on their own terms. Facial feminization procedures, nonsurgical care like hormone therapy, laser hair-removal, voice therapy and tracheal shaving can go a long way for many transitioning employees.

All LGBTQ employees need specific policies that apply to them just as equally as they apply to any other employee at the organization. Offering inclusive policies and benefits can not only ensure that every employee feels welcome and appreciated in the workplace, but also have a pretty significant impact on your company’s bottom line.

A Deloitte study found that inclusive cultures are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

How LGBTQ-friendly are your employee benefits and workplace policies, and how can you improve them better to embrace a more diverse and all-encompassing workforce and culture?

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