The battle to legalize same-sex marriage may be dominating the headlines, but that issue could take years to resolve. More immediately, a growing number of companies have taken it upon themselves to make life a little more equal for their gay employees.
These companies are reaching into their own pockets to pay for an extra tax that their gay employees owe on their partners’ health insurance — something that their married heterosexual co-workers don’t have to worry about because the federal government recognizes them as an economic unit.
To gay employees, gaining equal benefits is about more than the money. The gesture itself validates their relationship with their partners at a time when the government has not.
Most heterosexuals take for granted that they can add a spouse or children to their employer’s health plan. But gay employees with partners have that option only if they work for an organization that offers domestic partner coverage.
And even when the coverage is available, it costs gay couples more because they are taxed on the value of those benefits.
Over the last year, however, as the word has gotten out about this inequity, more companies have begun to “gross up” these workers, as the policy is known.
“It very quickly became a litmus test among employees for how welcoming their firm was,” said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the workplace project at the Human Rights Campaign. “A lot of folks were very proud of their companies and wanted to tell a lot of people, and in doing so, it sparked some competition.”
The competition has become most apparent in a handful of industries, notably law firms, big consulting companies and in Silicon Valley. More Wall Street firms, meanwhile, are said to be considering the policy. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the New York law firm, is the latest firm to follow suit. And Teach for America, the nonprofit teaching program, adopted the policy earlier this month after initially learning about it on Bucks, the personal finance blog on The New York Times Web site, which has been singling out the companies that gross up and those that do not — the New York Times Company among them.
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