The rising awareness of diversity & inclusion (D&I) issues within HR strategy has left many companies considering how their employee benefit plans account for the problems and priorities of their LGBT employees. Confronted by the growing calls for such a plan, some HR decision makers may be put off by the administrative effort of creating LGBT-inclusive policies or the added costs of expanding consistent employee benefits. Indeed, a full third of employers do not have and are not considering a D&I policy that accounts for LGBT employees.
In reality, though, most firms are probably closer to an LGBT-inclusive HR strategy than they suspect. Although it is true that the most progressive and extensive D&I programs include distinct LGBT-oriented policies that might require unique vendors, many standard HR policies only need a slight adjustment to ensure LGBT employees are granted equal benefits. In other cases, policies that seem hyper-specific to the LGBT community can be applied to other employees with similar health or life experience considerations. Nevertheless, one thing is evident: providing LGBT-friendly employee benefits does not require HR professionals to reinvent the wheel.
One of the most elemental aspects of an LGBT-friendly HR program is ensuring that LGBT employees are not subject to any manner of discrimination due to their gender or orientation. Despite this, according to Mercer’s LGBT Benefits Around the World survey, up to one-third of companies have not adopted LGBT-specific nondiscrimination policies. HR managers at these companies should go after the low hanging fruit by revising existing nondiscrimination policies to explicitly protect LGBT employees. This simple act can have far-reaching impacts, as it guarantees employees’ basic rights and protects the company against damaging and expensive litigation.
Some HR professionals may fail to see how the provision of life, medical, and retirement benefits is an LGBT-related issue, but, again, this area often comes down to policy wording and application. While an LGBT employee may enjoy all benefits, policy language that extends these benefits to employees’ spouses may prevent their same-sex partner from collecting benefits or payments on the plan. Though local marriage and civil rights laws may impact the eligibility of a same-sex partner, employers can simplify the issue by framing policy language to recognize common law and life partners.
An LGBT-minded family planning and care policy can encompass a lot of things, but almost none of them are unique to the LGBT-community. Family-planning components of an HR program that would be of interest to the LGBT community — things like fertility support, surrogacy or adoption assistance, and parental leave — are important to any employee that is unable or uninterested in pursuing a natural, unassisted pregnancy. As a result, these types of expanded benefits have the dual benefit of serving the LGBT community and making a company more attractive to prospective employees.
HR departments interested in providing for their LGBT workforce need not develop special coverage for medical complications and expenses affecting this group, as many of the related mechanisms apply to any employee with a serious medical condition. The building blocks of major medical coverage (diagnosis testing, counseling, treatment, accommodation for complications, etc.) that would accommodate an LGBT employee suffering from HIV/AIDS or seeking gender affirmation treatment are not dissimilar from those needed by an employee with cancer, heart disease, and other medical conditions not closely aligned with the LGBT community. Accordingly, HR professionals can serve their entire employee base by adopting policies without coverage caps, high copayments, restrictive networks, or long waiting periods for major procedures.
A recent Mercer survey shows that a lack of expertise or suitable vendors is the most common reason why companies around the world have not updated their HR practices to accommodate LGBT employees. As we’ve seen, this is much ado about nothing. While there certainly are components of an LGBT-oriented HR strategy that require more dedicated approaches and solutions (i.e. aging with HIV, gender affirmation treatment, LGBT healthcare vendors, etc.), a wide-reaching and impactful LGBT-friendly benefit program is not out-of-reach for any company. In fact, most employers can go a long way towards forwarding their D&I profile by simply providing explicit protections and removing barriers to benefits such as marriage requirements. Moreover, those employers that do choose to create or expand HR practices to accommodate common LGBT issues may find that these benefits are enjoyed by those outside that community. In a world of competitive labor markets, pro-employee initiatives cannot be ignored.
For more information on LGBT issues and D&I employment practices, check out Mercer’s LGBT Benefits Around the World, a global report on the prevalence of LGBT employment benefits in 50 countries.