Not long ago, designing an employee benefits package with LGBTQ+ employees in mind was viewed as a radical innovation in inclusivity. Few employers seriously considered the idea at all. Even fewer employers acted on it.
Now, attitudes have changed. The continual evolution of benefits offerings is both positive and necessary. A survey of millennials conducted by the Family Equality Council shows why this is true. Late in 2018, 48 percent of respondents who identified as LGBTQ planned to grow their families. This compared with 55 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents who indicated they planned to have children or adopt.
The narrowness of the gap highlights why an employer that wants to offer benefits equitably to all its employees must be willing to restructure its family-building programs. Here are just some of the ways this is already being done.
Offering a Family-Building Benefit Instead of Focusing on Fertility
An equitable family-building benefit recognizes that different employees begin their journeys in different places. For example, gay male couples are more likely than their straight peers to need coverage for adoption and surrogacy expenses. Lesbian couples might not use a surrogate to carry a fetus to term, but they will probably need to find and pay for sperm donation and insemination services. For their part, opposite-sex couples might need help covering infertility treatment costs and in vitro fertilization.
A growing trend among today’s employers is to offer an inclusive family-building benefit that addresses all of these needs. The inclusivity of the benefit can be measured in the fine print.
A package that includes a $5,000 adoption benefit, no surrogacy benefit and a $50,000 fertility benefit does not address the needs of gay, lesbian and straight couples equally. But a program that, for example, offers a $30,000 benefit that can be used for any employee’s family-building need (e.g., adoption, surrogacy, fertility, elective egg freezing) delivers equal support to all parents-to-be.
Waiving the Definition of Infertility
Currently, the most common family-building program is an employer-sponsored fertility benefit. If this is not already designed with LGBTQ+ employees in mind, it must be updated.
Some employers still see value in defining infertility in terms of problems opposite sex couples encounter when trying to conceive without clinical interventions. Applied strictly, this definition prevents employees from accessing company assets to obtain potentially unnecessary medical treatments by just walking into a doctor’s office and saying, “I’m infertile.”
Requiring a diagnosis of a physical condition, however, limits access to fertility benefits. A same-sex couple or a single person who has no partner cannot get pregnant on their own in the same way as an opposite sex couple. This makes many people socially, rather than biologically, infertile. And this is why the way a benefits plan defines infertility can stand as a barrier to accessing needed resources.
For example, an opposite sex couple that tries and fails to get pregnant naturally, even just once, might be considered infertile under an employer-sponsored health plan that only considers the biological definition of infertility. Once that definition is met, the couple would have access to a traditional employer-sponsored fertility benefit.
Equitably administering a fertility benefit to meet the needs of all employees may require waiving or updating the definition of infertility to eliminate discrimination. A positive trend for the LGBTQ+ community is that more employers are considering doing this.
Setting a High Limit for a Universal Lifetime Family-Building Benefit
Sometimes, you do not need to read deep into the fine print to discover whether an employer’s benefits package is inclusive and equitable. Offering a universal lifetime family-building benefit with a high limit to employees places an employer in the growing group of organizations that provide progressive and more-inclusive solutions to employees who wish to become parents.
A universal lifetime family-building benefit can be accessed for adoption, surrogacy, infertility treatments or any other family-building need. The total value of the benefit will be capped, but it will also be equitable as long as the same lifetime limit is set for each employee. To be considered fair, that limit must be high enough to meet the needs of employees in a variety of situations. Some employers have capped benefits as high as $200,000.
The advantage of such a policy for single employees and employees who have gay or lesbian partners who are looking to start families is obvious. Offering universal coverage is particularly advantageous for men who elect to freeze their sperm and for women who choose to freeze their eggs. These are increasingly common choices for individuals who want to wait until they marry or become more mature and financially secure before they start a family. Note here that traditional health insurance plans typically cover sperm and egg freezing when it is considered medically necessary. Elective freezing must be paid for out of pocket or by accessing a family-building benefit.
The growing popularity of universal benefits reflects a fundamental shift in how employers support family-building. Employers are thinking more broadly and going beyond offering traditional fertility benefits to promote more inclusiveness and equity. Committing to the effort can help attract and retain LGBTQ+ employees, which will be important as the competition for talent grows fiercer.