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The New Workplace: How Employee Benefits are Catching Up to the Needs of the LGBT Community

By Frank Fredericks

Many Corporations are leading the way in create workplace equality when it comes to the LGBT community. While a generation ago, being out at work itself could be problematic or even get you fired, now it is becoming increasingly hard for many employees to imagine a compensation package that doesn’t include provisions for a domestic partner, which provides coverage for unmarried straight and gay couples alike.

Just recently it seems companies have been going the extra mile to make their workplace LGBT friendly. For instance, Google has offered to cover the additional cost of providing health care for a domestic partner. Compared to a married couple, a domestic partner may cost an additional $1,000 in taxes due to the change in their taxable income. While previously, companies have offered domestic partners benefits through an employee, now Google is going a step further to create economic equality for same-sex partners. Barclay’s Capital began offering a similar plan that went into effect on the first of this year. And they aren’t the only ones.

Credit Suisse upped the ante when they not only provided similar tax benefits as Google and Barclay’s, but it also offers transgender benefits, such as sex-reassignment surgery and the related prescription drug treatments associated with it. These type of benefits are becoming more widely available at an increasing rate. The question is, why now?

The expansion of domestic partner benefits itself is a new phenomenon. While Lotus was the first publicly traded company to offer domestic partnership benefits in 1995, by 1998 just 13% of the FORTUNE 500 offered benefits packages for same-sex partners of their employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, that number has increased to 57% today. The majority of such programs offer domestic partners the identical benefits given to spouses. While some companies catch up with this developing standard, others like Credit Suisse and Google are pushing ahead. Are these companies using human resource policies to promote progressive ideals, or a simply looking for good PR for being considered “gay friendly”?

Probably neither, as it turns out. As with most human resource policies, companies are most interested in attracting and retaining the best talent possible. While only 1-2% using domestic partnership benefits at participating companies, 7-8% of Americans polled in 2010 identified as a member of the LGBT community. Nonetheless at face value it would appear to be an over emphasis on such a small community. However, there may be a subtle desire to attract more members of the LGBT community to companies.

The demographics of the LGBT community may play a significant role in explaining this trend. The median household income is approximately $80,000 in the LGBT community, compared to the nation-wide median of just over $50,000. While the only 7-8% of the general population identify as LGBT, many colleges boast 10-12% in their student bodies, which likely signifies a significant higher increase in education among the LGBT community. In short, gays and lesbians in America are both more educated and affluent than their straight counterparts. Perhaps the demographic of the young gay professional fits the ideal employee for many companies hiring.

There are many factors likely contributing the increase of LGBT-friendly workplaces, such as progressive policy-making, clever press opportunities, the benefits of a diversified staff, and demographic targeting. While some are in self-interest, many are also demonstrating the pragmatic side to how progressive ideals are changing the workplace. In the year’s to come, we will likely see these cutting-edge human resource tactics become the new standards in benefits. In the meantime, many companies will have to play catch up to be competitive in the labour market.

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