|In previous editions of Column
One, I observed that "it won't be long until a majority of
companies throughout the nation will use an expanded definition
of 'family' in structuring employee benefits programs" and that
"it is reasonable to predict that domestic partner benefits are
here to stay."|
Well, a new
report issued last week by the Human Rights Campaign, "The
State of the Workplace: 2005-2006," confirms the validity of
According to the report, some 51
percent of Fortune 500 companies now offer some form of domestic
While some plans are limited to
same-sex couples, others include unmarried opposite-sex couples
as well. Some go even further and include benefits for extended
family members of employees.
Most private employers says they
are expanding their employee benefits programs strictly for
business reasons. It helps them recruit new workers and
retain existing employees.
Domestic partner benefits are
also a good way to boost employee morale which in turn has a
positive effect on productivity. That effects the bottom
line -- profit.
But some employers which were
reluctant, or were sitting on the edge, have been prodded to
offer such benefits by "equal benefits" laws enacted by several
cities and one state. These laws tell companies that the
government entity will not buy goods or services from them if
they do not provide the same benefits to domestic partners that
they provide to spouses.
San Francisco was the first city
to enact such a law. Now there are 12 other cities.
The State of California also passed such a law, adding more
muscle to the equal benefits push.
Hewitt Associates, an
international employee benefits consulting firm, reports that by
adding domestic partners to the list of eligible benefits
recipients, most companies find that the cost of their benefits
programs only increase by about one percent.
The Human Rights Campaign website
lists more than 9,300 public and private employers which now
offer domestic partner benefits to their workers. This
includes 252 Fortune 500 companies, 13 state governments, 139
city and county governments, and 298 colleges and universities.
The Village Voice newspaper in
New York City got the ball rolling when it became the first
private employer to offer such benefits in 1982. Levi
Strauss and Co. became the first major employer with such
benefits in 1992.
Levi Strauss has really set an
example. In addition to including all domestic partners
regardless of gender, it has made the whole package of benefits
available to partners of employees -- health, dental, vision,
relocation assistance, bereavement leave, family medical leave,
employee discounts, adoption assistance, and retiree healthcare
Other employers, such as J.C.
Penny, are more restricted in their eligibility and more limited
in their benefits -- providing only health benefits and only to
A few others, such as Nationwide
Mutual Insurance Co, went beyond domestic partner benefits and
instituted a "household benefits" program in 1999. The
Columbus, Ohio-based company offers its 35,000 employees
benefits for unmarried couples, as well as for aging parents,
adult children and roommates.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, company spokesman
Eric Hardgrove said "As the traditional household has changed,
we decided to let our associates define family."
One does not need a crystal ball
to see where all this is headed. The expansion of employee
benefits programs will continue to follow demographic trends.
The more diverse our households
and living arrangements become, the more flexible and inclusive
employee benefits programs will become. It's inevitable.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and