Editors' Note:Guest blogger Samir Luther is an expert on employment non-discrimination policies and benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers in the United States. In his capacity with the HRC Workplace Project, he works with employers to develop and implement model practices as well as set standards and benchmarks for the project's annual Corporate Equality Index report.
The HRC Foundation's Corporate Equality Index has been the subject of much debate since it was first released in 2002. I'm proud to announce new criteria today - criteria 3.0 - that will be effective beginning June 2011 and will take the CEI and its participants to a more holistic level of LGBT workplace inclusion in the U.S.
The two most significant changes are to employee benefits. Most employers will have to start working on these changes now if they're going to meet them in time for the June 2011 survey deadline:
Fully equivalent spousal and partner benefits, including recognition of state-registered relationships. In this day and age, there's no need for same-sex spouses to have to complete burdensome domestic partnership affidavits to qualify for benefits, and all the benefits should be the same, to the extent possible under federal law.
Health insurance with no discriminatory transgender exclusions and recognition of the WPATH Standards of Care. No one should have medically necessary treatment denied and, as of this past summer, even the AMA is calling upon health insurers to cover treatment as recommended by a physician. We credited 49 employers in the last CEI report for removing transgender exclusions, but the WPATH piece is an additional safeguard against more restrictive plans in terms of what's covered. We've seen tremendous progress in transgender health insurance in the last few years, but this standard will help ensure that when these criteria become effective two years from now, they still have teeth. And we'll be conducting a thorough review of inclusive plans to provide comprehensive recommendations to employers this Fall.
In addition, we all know that LGBT workers' experiences at employers that earn 100% aren't always perfect, and that 100% businesses have very different ways of publicly supporting the LGBT community:
To ensure that the policies and benefits the CEI calls for are coupled with competent management, we've enhanced our diversity training and competency requirements, and are pushing employers to ask optional and confidential LGBT identification questions in anonymous employee engagement surveys or as part of other optional demographic questions used for employee retention purposes.
Lastly, recognizing that employers have come up with endless unique ways of supporting the broader LGBT community, we've expanded our requirements for external engagement. Businesses will have to demonstrate at least three types of LGBT-specific engagement such as recruitment efforts, supplier diversity programs, marketing or advertising, philanthropic support or public support for LGBT equality under the law. The end result, we hope, is that businesses will work harder to employ LGBT workers and suppliers, to continue to positively engage the hefty LGBT consumer market, to support our LGBT organizations with needed operating and programmatic resources and to speak out in support of equal rights for LGBT workers and their families.
And there you have it. (It's amazing how simple it looks when boiled down to four bullet points - you really should read our roadmap to the 3.0 changes)
589 employers were rated this past year - certainly, some are better prepared than others to meet the new criteria, and a few will even achieve them in advance of 2011 - we will honor these employers where we can. But we fully expect many employers with state-regulated insurance plans will be challenged on the insurance pieces, and employers in states without inclusive employment law may face concerns over the self-identification questions.
We can be sure, though, that these challenges are surmountable. We have done everything we can think of to prepare employers for these changes, and are rolling out an extensive education plan to ensure they are equipped to meet all of the criteria.
These changes are truly exciting to me, but I know many Bilerico readers have expressed concerns and disappointment over the specifics of the CEI criteria and the time we have taken to increase our standards.
We've been listening. We've actively sought input since we began in 2002 at conferences (like Out & Equal, Out for Work, Reaching Out MBA and Lavender Law), through our Business Council members and with many of you one-on-one. Furthermore, employees and family members call and e-mail us when they have problems with employers rated on the CEI, whether a low or a high rating - we have taken that feedback to heart and called employers to task when we find discrepancies.
The Workplace Project team at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is a nimble operation of four and a half employees (plus an intern), but I can't imagine having a team more dedicated and committed to getting the criteria - and the individual employer ratings - right.
We can't measure everything in corporate America, in part because employers don't like filling out surveys (especially ones that require lots of number-crunching or specific data pulls) but also because we can only pore over so many surveys at a time. Nonetheless, we have added requirements this past year for documentation in order for an employer to be noted as having transgender-inclusive benefits. That helped us provide the most accurate information we've been able to provide thus far, and shaped the new standard we'll be holding employers accountable to for transgender-inclusive insurance.
We have our work cut out for us and, like always, we'll need everyone's help to make sure that employers stay in the game and make it to 100 percent in 2011 - the more, the better. Please, check out the resources on our website, and let us know what else we can provide to make these changes happen as quickly as possible.