No Longer an Alternative

More Utah Companies Provide Domestic Partner Benefits

Jeff Vanek

May 6, 2013

For many employees, an important part of their overall compensation is the company benefits package, particularly employer-provided health insurance. Benefits can be a key consideration for an employee when deciding to stay with a current job or take a new one.

Employee benefits fall into two general categories: retirement benefits and so-called health and welfare benefits. Retirement benefits include 401(k) plans, IRA accounts or pension plans.

Health and welfare benefits typically include health, employee life, accidental death and dismemberment, and short-term disability insurances. Paid sick leave, vision, dental insurance and long-term elder care are also common health and welfare benefits.

A growing trend among companies is to not only make these types of benefits available to employees, their spouses and their dependents, but also to an employee’s domestic partner.

Into the Mainstream

Domestic partnership benefits are referred to as an alternative benefit, meaning a benefit less commonly offered by companies. Other alternative benefits may include things like daycare, subsidized childcare and discounts for products and services.

Domestic partnerships, however, may not be so “alternative” these days. As of the latest report from the Corporate Equity Index, compiled by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits to employees. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 31 percent of employers in the country offer the benefit.

In Utah, 25 percent of Utah respondents provide domestic partner benefits, according to The Employers Council’s 2013-2014 National & Utah Policies & Benefits Survey. Each year the number of companies that offer domestic partner benefits has increased, both nationally and locally.

Alternative is becoming the norm.

Although gay and lesbian advocacy groups have championed extending benefits to domestic partners, the issue goes beyond sexual orientation and it affects more people than one might realize. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2010, unmarried households made up 45 percent of all U.S. households. Often, employees who elect to provide insurance to their domestic partner do so for an opposite sex partner.

Companies in Utah that offer domestic partnership benefits have typically been larger out-of-state headquartered employers such as American Express and ADP. Even so, more and more Utah-based employers like CHG Healthcare Services, Management and Training Corporation, University of Utah, Salt Lake Brewing Company and ARUP offer this benefit, as do a number of city municipalities such as Midvale, Park City, Taylorsville, West Valley City, Salt Lake City and Logan.

Corporate Values

Offering domestic partner benefits is seen as a strategy for creating an attractive work environment that supports not just the employee, but the employee’s loved ones. As a spokesperson for American Express states, “We provide benefits and resources to our employees that ensure they know we value them and their family, and the commitment that they have made to the company. The company has offered domestic partner health benefits since 1996 as part of our ongoing effort to make American Express a great place to work.”

Kevin Ricklefs, senior vice president of human resources at CHG Healthcare Services says, “It is important to protect the overall wellness of our employees and, by extension, their families. We recognize the need to eliminate the added stress and potential financial burden caused by an employee’s family being unable to obtain health insurance.”

 “Why wouldn’t you support your employees?” asks Von Madsen, human resources manager at ARUP Laboratories. “If your corporate goal is to hire the best and the brightest you can find, then you have to offer a value package that shows them you want them. Whether you are a prospective employee or an employee, whether you have a domestic partner or not, you take notice that there is an employer who cares about their employees.”

Hidden Costs

There are financial issues that both employers and employees must deal with when a company offers domestic partner benefits to its employees. One issue for employers is that insurers may charge an additional premium for adding the benefit.

 “Insurance providers will sometimes add a 1 percent to 2 percent additional premium charge to the company for domestic partner coverage. They justify the increase in premium by claiming it will increase the number of people they must insure and therefore increase their risk,” says Marcie Hufford, a senior account manager at GBS Benefits.

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