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More Companies Recognize the Benefits of Workplace Equality

Workplace

SOURCE: iStockphoto

Research consistently shows that unfair and discriminatory work environments cripple an employer’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest. These negative environments also stifle job performance and productivity. In this way, workplace unfairness introduces otherwise avoidable inefficiencies and costs that detract from companies’ bottom line.

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Workplace benefits are an important component of employee compensation. As of June 2012 benefits packages comprised 31 percent of total employee compensation. Employer-sponsored health insurance in particular is a critical workplace benefit. It helps ensure that employees and their families receive the health care they need during times of illness without having to spend their savings to access that care.

Yet all too often, workers with same-sex domestic partners or spouses do not have the same access to the workplace benefits offered to their peers with opposite-sex partners or spouses. But new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, released earlier this week, indicate that an increasing number of employers have taken steps to ensure equal benefits for equal work, regardless of sexual orientation.

While the number of employers offering health benefits to their workers this year remained statistically unchanged compared to 2009, the number of employers offering health benefits to employees with same-sex partners increased markedly. According to Kaiser/Health Research & Educational Trust’s annual report, 21 percent of employers offered equal health benefits to employees with a same-sex partner or spouse in 2009. Today that number stands at 31 percent, representing an increase of 32 percent.

The Kaiser/Health Research & Educational Trust study also found that an increasing number of employers now offer equal health benefits to employees with opposite-sex unmarried partners. In 2009, 31 percent of employers offered equal health benefits to unmarried opposite-sex partners. Today 37 percent of employers offer these benefits to their employees.

While Kaiser/Health Research & Educational Trust’s analysis examined the entire universe of employers in the United States, other studies, such as Fortune’s annual list of America’s most successful companies, have looked at specific slices of employers. According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, a whopping 59 percent of Fortune 500, 85 percent of Fortune 100, and 90 percent of Fortune 50 companies now offer equal health insurance benefits to employees with same-sex domestic partners and spouses.

These numbers tell us three things. First, they tell us that the percentage of employees who have access to same-sex partner benefits is likely higher than the percentage of employers who offer them, given that the Fortune companies generally represent the workplaces with the largest number of employees in the United States. Therefore, while 31 percent of employers offer these benefits, the percentage of employees who have access to them is likely much larger.

Second, these numbers confirm the Kaiser/Health Research & Educational Trust findings that the number of employers offering these benefits is indeed increasing. In 2003, for example, only 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies offered equal partner benefits, compared to the nearly 60 percent that do so today.

Lastly, these figures reveal that our nation’s largest and most successful companies recognize that treating all workers equally makes good business sense. Research consistently shows that unfair and discriminatory work environments cripple an employer’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest. These negative environments also stifle job performance and productivity. In this way, workplace unfairness introduces otherwise avoidable inefficiencies and costs that detract from companies’ bottom line.

The majority of Fortune companies that level the benefits playing field for workers with same-sex partners or spouses reflect that doing so is not only the right thing but also the fiscally sound thing to do.

And it’s not just our nation’s largest and most successful businesses that recognize the business case for equal workplace benefits. A CAP-commissioned poll of our nation’s small-business owners reveals that employers both large and small recognize the benefits of equality in the workplace:

Of small businesses that offer health benefits to straight employees and their dependents, 51 percent also offer equivalent benefits to their gay employees and their family members. Of the remaining businesses that offer these benefits to straight employees, but do not currently offer parity in benefits to gay employees and their families, 51 percent also say that they would extend those benefits if they had an employee with a same-sex partner. This means that three out of four (76 percent) of these small businesses either currently offer or are willing to offer equal benefits to gay employees and their families.

What’s more, business owners both small and large report few costs associated with implementing and maintaining equal benefits policies. In fact, the significant financial benefits of recruiting and retaining top talent likely outweigh any short-term costs associated with offering these benefits.

The Kaiser/Health Research & Educational Trust data released this week are good news for members of the workforce with a same-sex partner or spouse. But far too many employees with same-sex partners still lack access to the essential health insurance benefits offered to employees with opposite-sex partners or spouses. More work must be done to fill the gaps in health insurance coverage to ensure that all families, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated equally in the workplace.

Crosby Burns is a Research Associate for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

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