Essentially, under federal law, company-provided health benefits that extend to a domestic partner count as taxable income, whereas if that domestic partner is a legally married spouse, it does not count as taxable income. Same-sex couples end up paying, on average, around $1,069 more per year than married couples. Congress has tried to remedy the problem, but a fix was left out of the healthcare reform bill passed in March.
Some gay Google employees (the New York Times helpfully points out that they self-identify as “Gayglers”) brought this disparity to the company’s attention, and Google actually decided to do something about it. The company will now pay its employees with same-sex domestic partners covered by Google healthcare a little extra, to make up for that tax. Heterosexual couples don’t qualify, since they have the option to get married and keep that extra $1,069 the traditional way. That’s not the only change, either; Google took a good look at their policies and made some other adjustments:
The company also decided to make a few other changes that would help gay employees, including eliminating a one-year waiting period before qualifying for infertility benefits and including domestic partners in its family leave policy — going beyond the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks’ leave in a one-year period to recover from a medical condition or to care for a relative.
It’s great to see a company do something that doesn’t necessarily pay off for them in any immediate way. But the Gayglers are really pleased about the change, and likely even the straight Googlers can feel good that their company responds, even monetarily, to the concerns of its employees. Industry experts think the competitive nature of Silicon Valley might even lead other companies to follow in Google’s footsteps.