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According to Human Rights Campaign Work Net (2006) fringe benefits such
as health and life insurance, a pension or profit-sharing has long been a way for
employers to compensate their workers, and for one company to obtain a competitive
edge over another. While most employers that offer benefits such as health insurance and
dental care also make those benefits available to their employees' spouses and legal
dependents, the idea of extending such benefits to the domestic partner (DP) of unmarried
employees, including lesbian and gay employees, is a newer concept.
In the American society today, most people think of domestic partnership when it
applies to homosexual relationships. Our team has come to the conclusion that, when
presenting this topic to any corporation, it is essential to include as many different
definitions of domestic partnership as possible. Domestic partner benefits can include
medical and dental insurance, disability and life insurance, pension benefits, family and
bereavement leave, education and tuition assistance, credit union membership, relocation
and travel expenses and inclusion of partners in company events. Employment policies
of corporations should not be designed to change personal values, they are designed to
foster and atmosphere of fairness and professional respect at work. Domestic partner
benefits are equal pay for equal work, a tool for attracting and keeping the best
employees and a means of improving employee productivity.
Domestic Partner Benefits 3
Prior to World War II few companies offered comprehensive benefit programs to their
employees. Of the few that did offer benefits, only the employee was covered not their
family. Families most often depended on fraternal orders and community assistance to
meet their needs. Throughout the decade following WW II, unions fought for and
negotiated benefits for employees and their families. As corporations began to design
their employee benefit programs they used 1950's sitcom families such as Father knows
Best as models for their definition of family. These policies still are geared more toward
the idealized family model rather than the diverse makeup of households today. As a
result few corporate benefit programs truly meet the needs of many of their employee's
families. Laws that traditionally define families as individuals related by blood, marriage
or adoption reinforced corporation's cultural message. Over the next couple of decades
the makeup of families changed even more. The divorce rate increased considerably and
unmarried couples began living together. As couples remarried they found themselves in
blended families with dependent
stepchildren. As a result the legal interpretation of the
term "family" has been used to exclude blended families and domestic partners from vital
legal protections and benefits. In this way the government has helped to protect
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meet the needs of diverse family formations.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was designed to protect
families under employer-sponsored benefit packages, but its creation actually undercut
that protection by allowing employers to put marriage requirements into their benefit
plans. Corporations can now say they follow nondiscriminatory policies, but without
national laws requiring legal recognition and protection of non-traditional families, many
Domestic Partner Benefits 4
employers can continue to dismiss the demands of the modern family without fear of
With the growing diverse makeup of families in society, some courts recognize
the need for a "functional family" bound by emotional and economic commitments rather
than the traditional factors of blood, marriage or adoption. Some of the factors that
determine the existence of a functional family are the exclusivity and longevity of the
relationships, as well as the level of emotional and financial commitment. Based on the
concept of a "functional family" some legal commentators have called for household
units to receive legal recognition and protection to help sustain non-traditional families.
Despite considerable demographic shifts most employers have not shifted their focus
away from the 1950's "beneficial family" policies. Most corporations still only extend
their benefit packages to the employee, their spouse and dependent
To date few companies have adopted domestic partner programs, but the majority
of the employers who have adopted these policies only offer low cost benefits such as,
family, bereavement, and sick leave. Only a small percentage of companies offer
healthcare and pension benefits to domestic partners. Some corporations are beginning to
change their benefit packages to cover domestic partners as to attract valuable employees,
improve employee production and avoid litigation. These corporations offer this benefit
coverage at a price to the employee and also require that certain guidelines and criteria be
met such as proof of joint bank accounts, they must reside together, and have joint
financial responsibilities, and some may also be required to sign a form of attestation.
Domestic partners are thought by some to be in need of policing. No cases of fraud have
been reported since their establishment. The attitudes of employers and their formation
Domestic Partner Benefits 5
of benefits program must change as the makeup of families has changed. Many people
are willing to pay for these benefits to make sure that their families are protected.
In recent years, a growing number of employers, including Apple, Levi Strauss
and the city of San Francisco, have agreed to offer health insurance to the domestic
partners of their employees (Tuller, 1996).
When a company considers making a decision such as offering benefits to
domestic partners there are several things they must consider. Among those items, they
will consider what the value to the company is and the cost of offering such benefits. As
research has shown, benefits became a part of the employment many years ago and the
benefits package were designed with the traditional family in mind (Bowman, 1996).
The families in today's society, however, have evolved to anything but traditional.
Instead of comprising of husband, wife and kids, the families are comprised more of
unwed heather asexual couples with kids, or same sex couples with or without children.
An exact cost of benefits to employees to companies is not easily attainable due to
lack of current statistic during this research. However, in relation to health benefits,
employers do typically pay the bulk the bill, paying for about 75% of the health costs.
While this does dot not represent benefits to domestic partners, it does offer a framework
as to what employers would consider paying for domestic partners benefits.
Cost is certainly an important consideration but it is not the only issue to
deliberate. Appreciating the complexity and orientation of the family is important
because organizations are made up of people. People are the engines that run all the
corporations of the world and if any reason, that is why corporations should understand
what makes the people happy. People like working at happy places, so they're more
Domestic Partner Benefits 6
likely to stick around and do a better job (Murphy, 2002). Murphy reported Philip Strand
stating, "One very large organization told us that their savings as a result of (employee)
retention was several million dollars. Certainly saving millions of dollars in employee
retention is worth considering.
The keys to securing domestic partner benefits in your workplace are to present a
business case for why these benefits are a good thing. Some companies will jump at the
opportunity to satisfy the needs of employees with domestic partners, while others may
take longer to consider implementation (Human Rights Campaign, 2006).
The Human Rights Campaign suggests a few steps to consider before presenting
DP benefits to your company are:
1. Does your employer have a non-discrimination statement that includes
2. How is diversity integrated into the company?
3. Identify your allies and adversaries. Which employees want or need
4. Identify your company's competitors that already offer DP benefits.
5. Talk to your supervisor about what you are trying to accomplish
6. Research the topic thoroughly and write a simple proposal.
Make sure your proposal has been reviewed by the appropriate decision makers,
people with authority to change or implement company policy. Offer to answer any
additional questions and position yourself as a resource in the process. There are several
organizations with information of how to address this issue with your employer.
Domestic Partner Benefits 7
Companies are beginning to understand that employees are their number one
commodity and would be judicious to consider offering domestic partner benefits to
employees. This would facilitate to attract and retain the most highly qualified staff and
to establish a positive working environment.
San Francisco is the first city in the nation to require employers who have
contracts with the city to provide benefits to domestic partners (Bowman, 1996). The
legislation was passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Willie Brown
(Bowman, 1996). It is very likely that this wave will sweep the nation and many
employers will also determine that value of offering benefits to domestic partners far
outweigh the cost. The nation is moving toward requiring benefits offered to domestic
partners, and as a forward moving company, embracing change is prudent.
Domestic Partner Benefits 8
Bowman, C. (1996). Brown signs law on partner benefits/ S.F. contractors must offer
coverage. San Francisco Chronicle, pA15
Gillan, Jennifer L.; Ponte, Lucille M. (2005 Summer). From our family to yours:
Rethinking the "beneficial family" and marriage-centric corporate benefit
programs. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, v14 i2.
Human Rights Campaign (2006). Work Net. Retrieved April 28, 2006, from www.hrc.org
Murphy, D. (2002). Going to school with Fish; happy employees can save companies
more than a few fins. San Francisco Chronicle, pJ1
Tuller, D. (1996). IRS to tax health benefits for domestic partners. San Francisco