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How to implement family-inclusive benefits for LGBTQ+ workers

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As companies continue to work on DEI initiatives and goals, one area of focus has been family-inclusive benefits for LGBTQ+ workers. Even if inequities weren’t baked into benefits on purpose, simple things like referring to parental leave as “maternity leave” can shut employees out.

“Some organizations weren’t paying attention or just weren’t realizing there were systemic barriers, even within their benefits, and are taking a look at employee benefits and making sure all their benefits cater to the diverse needs of their employees,” said Monica Marquez, co-founder and chief learning officer at HR technology company Beyond Barriers.

Here’s how.

Create family inclusive benefits

Family inclusive benefits mean covering all families — not only those helmed by one cis gendered, heterosexual man and one cis gendered, heterosexual woman.

When benefits stuck with that definition of family, LGBTQIA workers “were wanting to start families but there were no ways for them to do it” given the financial burden of different paths they could take, said Marquez. “But heterosexual couples were getting assistance for benefits, for gestational surrogacy and adoption.”

Some of those disparities righted themselves when gay marriage became legal in the U.S. in 2015. But that doesn’t mean benefits are equitable everywhere, especially with family building benefits.

When these benefits were covered, oftentimes there’d be a need to meet a traditional clinical definition of interfertility, said Roger Shedlin, MD, CEO and president of WINFertility, a family-building benefits provider, like six months or a year of unprotected sex without a pregnancy. “That’s not applicable to this community.”

In the last five years, Marquez has seen more organizations “really thinking about FMLA and parental leave, shifting even the language from maternity leave to parental leave so that fathers could also take time off to care and bond with a child,” said Marquez.

The definition of “family” is also being reconsidered — by both employers and state legislatures. The California Family Rights Act grants workers the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave to take care of a family member. Starting on January 1, “family member” did not have to be a direct blood relative.

That shift breaks out of the heteronormative definition of family, a California attorney told HR Dive in October. Oftentimes the people in an individual’s care network is not necessarily their parent or child; this shift reflects the reality of care networks, she said.

Create equitable benefits

The ideal package of family inclusive benefits for one company may not be the same for another. For example, the legal costs associated with building a LGBTQ+ family will be higher in some states, so that benefit might be appropriate if your organization is located there, where it wouldn’t be somewhere else.

Marquez said benefits managers can either tap into an LGBTQ+ employee resource group, or to create a specific focus group for the purpose of reevaluating benefits. Ask: “What would be some things that would be helpful that maybe we haven’t thought about?” Encourage stakeholders to think broadly into areas like parental leave, medical and mental health benefits. For example, “you may think you have the most inclusive prescription coverage, but you find out when you ask your LGBTQIA employee resource group that certain drugs aren’t being covered,” she said.

Shedlin said employers should also consider the additional stress that LGBTQ+ families often face when trying to build families “because of added cost and added complexity” in the process, whatever path they choose. That might mean employers add additional access to behavioral health specialists, nurse advocates, network navigation support and informational video libraries. Having the right network of providers who are comfortable and educated about working with LGBTQ+ individuals can make a big difference, he added.

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