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The Corporate View, Part 3: What the new CEI criteria means for transgender-inclusion, etc.

Since 2002, the CEI has emerged as the consensus benchmark for LGBT-workplace equality in the U.S. – it’s because of that status that the changes occurring in the criteria this year will have a big impact going forward.

When we started the last decade, 89 companies participated in the survey – and had to answer 10 basic questions. In the last cycle, the number of companies has grown to 477… and the survey now asks detailed questions on 40 specific policies and practices ranging from pension benefits administration to gender transition guidelines.  (377 of these companies scored a 100% rating… and these companies employ 8.3 million full-time workers in the U.S.)

Starting with the 2012 survey (to be sent in by June this year), the standards are higher and will really push companies who want to receive a 100% rating.  Two areas that are of particular interest:  spousal benefits equality & transgender health benefits.

Benefits Parity for Same-Sex families
Parity between employees with different-sex spouses and same-sex partners or spouses in the provision of the following benefits: COBRA; dental; vision; legal dependent coverage; bereavement leave; employer-provided supplemental life insurance for a partner; relocation/travel assistance; adoption assistance; qualified joint and survivor annuity for partners; qualified pre-retirement survivor annuity for partners; retiree healthcare benefits; and employee discounts.

The old criteria only required coverage of 3 or more of the above benefits – and while this may not be a big leap for most companies, it will require that the benefits be explicitly available to same-sex families.

In addition, CEI is now tracking those companies that are now offsetting the disparate federal tax treatment of these benefits for same-sex families.  (Current tax law considers insurance benefits to be “imputed income” even if you are legally married.)

Impact: For companies that are already at 100%, most (if not all) already are at parity – but this change should prompt a review to ensure that the benefits are in place and equally important: employees know about them.  For companies that are just now considering providing benefits to employees with same-sex partners or spouses, there’s no way to just “ease in” – or like the Obama administration, claim provision of benefits when clearly parity isn’t there.
Although no points are allotted for “taxing-up” salaries to eliminate the added tax burden, by including this in the survey (and potentially assigning points in the future), businesses are on notice to do a couple of things:  support changes in the federal tax code that would eliminate the added tax burden on employees (and additional cost of benefits administration to the business) and/or follow the leaders in this area to retain their best and brightest LGBT employees.

Of course, much of this could be completely short-circuited with full marriage equality in the legal sense at the federal level – and frankly, there’s a compelling fiscally conservative argument that says marriage equality would lessen the burden to business by eliminating dual compensation systems – and at the same time help simplify the tax system… not to mention making it easier to move employees around (and handle visa issues for bi-national couples) but I doubt you’ll hear from GOProud on that.

Transgender Health Coverage
Equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care is required.  This includes removal of “transgender-exclusion” clauses from benefits plans and includes clear language that affirms coverage, including services and benefits related to transition: short term medical leave; mental health benefits; pharmaceutical coverage (e.g., for hormone replacement therapies); coverage for medical visits or laboratory services; and coverage for reconstructive surgical procedures related to sex reassignment. 

To receive full credit in this area, coverage should have no lifetime or annual caps, conform to WPATH Standards of Care (SOC), and address delivery (network adequacy) among other requirements.

Impact:  Even if, as a transgender individual, you neither want nor need GRS, these changes should have a positive impact overall when it comes to medical care.  Removal of the transgender exclusion language that has been a standard for insurance companies can begin to erase the notion that anything transgender-related is “cosmetic” or not really medically necessary.

By requiring conformance of treatment to WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) and ensuring companies address health provider and network adequacy, will also have a large impact – even for those who do not work for companies that provide these benefits.

Adequacy of care – and standards – is something that everyone faces… but for the transgender individual (who is already dealing with enough), the current medical gauntlet is bewildering if not depressing.

WPATH has done a good job of defining SOC, but the health care system has yet to address issues of availability, certification, portability and coverage.  The new CEI criteria put a starting framework around this and are an important start. 

I would like to see WPATH SOC board certification as well as a physicians registry along with governance and monitoring within the health care industry – not something that’s in the CEI area, but to my mind is intertwined.

(See Part 3a for additional details.)

The rest of the changes

With the exception of the new “negative points” section which begins to grapple with anti-LGBT political activities, the rest of the change are more geared toward what I term “creating an inclusive environment”.

Key changes here deal with organizational competence – such as ensuring that new employees have training that includes employment non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that explicitly include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues (ditto for diversity training for existing employees). 

This is an area that really benefits from having company operations in a state like California or Washington where the anti-harassment training requirements must include LGBT-specific elements in order to pass legal muster.  Most companies buy their training tied to the highest standard they have to legally follow and don’t buy something different for areas in the U.S. where that standard is non-existent or not as rigorous. 

Regardless, my recommendation is to make sure that someone who is LGBT reviews any training before it’s implemented to make sure that it really is inclusive.

One new element calls for allowing employees to self-identify according to sexual orientation and/or gender identity either in the company HR system or in a company survey… checking these systems for adequate privacy protections and opt-in/out procedures will be a must, but the overall thrust is about making sure that employee recruitment and retention efforts specifically include LGBT people.

The requirement for having an LGBT employee group or a firm-wide diversity council that explicitly includes LGBT employees remains – and it’s a critical piece to having the rest of the CEI actually happen.

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Left of center Houstonian working in the energy industry and in his spare time on LGBT equality. Current co-Chair of Out & Equal Houston, a regional affliate of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.