21 May 2011

Special Treatment for Gays by Business

The New York Times published an article yesterday (20 May 2011) entitled For Gay Employees, an Equalizer.

The article reports on the recent trend by a growing number of businesses across all sectors of "grossing up." Essentially, these businesses are reimbursing gay & lesbian employees for the extra tax they must if they add their partner (or their domestic partner's child(ren)) to their health insurance plan.

So, why are some employers creating this special privilege for their gay & lesbian employees--a right their straight employees aren't entitled to? Quite simply, it's because their straight employees aren't penalized with this extra tax burden when they add their spouse to their health insurance coverage. Federal law doesn't deem such health care benefits imputed income and, therefore, does not tax it.

There are a few things to consider:

First, not every employer offers health benefits to the partners of their gay & lesbian employees; in fact, only about 58% of Fortune 500 and a mere 40% of the Fortune 1000 do so (source: Human Rights Campaign).

Of those employers who do offer such health care benefits to the partners of their gay & lesbian employees, only 60 employers "gross up." (source: Human Rights Campaign).

What's more amazing is that these employers are doing this of their own free will and volition, especially since they, themselves, have to pay more in payroll taxes for employees who take advantage of these health care benefits. The federal government considers the healthcare benefits provided to a gay or lesbian employee's partner as income, thereby raising the amount of income deemed to have been paid out to such employee, thereby requiring the collection of increased payroll taxes (FICA, etc.)--again, something to which straight couples are not subjected.

For many gay & lesbian couples, however, what's more important to them than the reimbursement of this added expense for creating and maintaining their families is that their employers view them as with value, and equal to their straight employees in every aspect--even when having to level the playing field means having to pay a little bit more out of pocket.

This is just another area where marriage INequality is costing both employees and their employees needless extra expense because this legalized discrimination is allowed to continue. By allowing same-sex marriages and promoting marriage equality, the federal government would unilaterally eliminate this, and thousands of other inequities promulgated under the law by such marriage inequality.

Special rights aren't right; however, until the federal government can level the playing field, they are a necessary evil required to level the playing field in maintaining equal treatment under the law of all citizens of this great nation.

The New York Times is maintaining a list of employers who offer "grossing up" benefits, broken down by industry.