Bringing itself in line with its biggest competitor UPS, the package delivery giant FedEx has announced that it will begin offering same-sex domestic partner health benefits to its 225,000-plus U.S. employees as of 2012.
The exact details of the new FedEx policy have yet to be finalized, but the Memphis-based shipper has been keen to publicize this change after having received heavy criticism in the past for failing to provide such benefits for all its LGBT employees.
The company’s lack of health benefits for same gender couples saw it pulled from the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list in 2007. To qualify, all companies must offer same-sex domestic partner or spousal health benefits, which FedEx did offer but only in states where it was legally required to do so such as in California, and to employees in its FedEx Office (FedEx Kinko) division where employees had received the health benefits before FedEx acquired Kinko in 2004. The issue was highlighted again when Fortune’s 2009 100 Best Companies to Work For list made the same error.
The Human Rights Campaign, who publish an annual Corporate Equality Index rating companies on how LGBT friendly their policies are, praised the decision while also pointing to the work that still needs to be done:
FedEx’s partner benefits won’t be available until 2012, and it is unclear whether the benefits will be offered to union employees or whether they’ll recognize same-sex spouses. Nonetheless, FedEx’s decision to provide equal benefits to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees with same-sex partners marks a significant change to a powerful American, multinational business once publicly recalcitrant on LGBT workplace equality. We will look to businesses such as ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), which top the Fortune 1000 list, to make the same smart decision.
Regardless, we’ll continue to partner with FedEx and companies like it to ensure that their benefits demonstrate current best practices, and to encourage them to join the coalition of 80 major businesses that support the federal Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act (H.R. 2625 / S. 1153) to end the unfair taxation of employer-provided benefits to same-sex partners and spouses.
In 2009, FedEx added gender identity to its anti-discrimination policy, though, like many companies, it has yet to offer trans-inclusive diversity training or insurance coverage. Based on the 2010 Corporate Equality Index, FedEx scored 70 points out of a possible 100. UPS, which has offered same-sex domestic partner health benefits since 2004, scored 100.
Speaking on the new benefits policy and why there will be a delay in bringing in same-sex partner benefits, FedEx spokesperson Sandra Munoz told Tennessee news site The Commercial Appeal:
“Employees have been asking for the benefit,” said spokeswoman Sandra Munoz.
It won’t go into effect sooner because FedEx needs time to rebuild benefits that were cut as part of a belt-tightening to help weather the recession, Munoz added.
Munoz said details will be worked out before employees get the option of choosing the benefit during health insurance enrollment in the fall of 2011.
The benefit won’t apply to heterosexual domestic partners, she said.
This last point has caused some raised eyebrows, with opponents calling it out as evidence of discrimination against straight domestic partners.
However, one legal expert said that the policy change is entirely within FedEx’s right to determine how to supply benefits to its employees and that one must look to the nature of the change before criticizing the policy.
From a May 25 follow-up in The Commercial Appeal:
“I know some heterosexuals are freaking out and saying ‘this is not fair.’ But I think they’re missing the defining difference, being that they can get married, where homosexual couples cannot in most states,” said Marcia Wagner, principal in the Wagner Law Group, a Boston firm specializing in employment law.
“It’s perfectly legal,” said Wagner. “At the end of the day, I am against determining on the basis of sexual orientation. But we live in a private-enterprise world, and private enterprise can determine what it wants to do.”
In the same article FedEx spokeswoman Sandra Munoz supplies additional information, saying that FedEx allows employees another way to obtain health insurance for domestic partners, overage dependents and the like in the form of an opt-in group plan run by the HRPolicy Association, and has done so since 2009.
Although FedEx’s addition of same-sex domestic partner health benefits is not a massive victory for LGBT rights in itself, it is perhaps indicative of a shift toward LGBT inclusive policies in corporate America. It is also hoped that the Memphis based shipping giant’s move to promote equality will inspire other businesses in conservative areas to consider making a similar gesture.
However, work still needs to be done to ensure businesses provide equal rights to LGBTs in the workplace, which is why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently awaiting action in Congress is so vital.
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