Corporate Equality Index 2019: Criteria Updates

Filed under: Workplace

The HRC Foundation is committed to maintaining a rigorous, fair, attainable and transparent CEI rating system. Apart from the survey process itself, HRC Foundation staff work year-round to develop tools for employers to meet the criteria through online resources and direct consultation. Resources for each of the criteria are available at

The HRC Foundation continually examines the criteria and gathers input to guide the future of the criteria. Changes to the CEI criteria are necessary to account for:

  1. The changing landscape of legal protections for LGBTQ employees and their families, both federally and from state to state, and
  2. Emerging best practices to meet the needs of LGBTQ employees and ensure that LGBTQ employees are treated fairly in the workplace.

In keeping with the tenets, the following criteria go into effect in the 2019 CEI (calendar year 2018). We will be conducting intensive education and outreach to ensure the success of CEI participants under this future 2019 criteria. Please see below for more details on the upcoming changes. 

Domestic Partner Benefits:The Parity Principle

Since 2002, the CEI has required parity between spousal and partner benefits. After the United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court rulings, HRC released a position paper cautioning against exposing LGBTQ employees to legal risks by switching to a marriage-only standard.  

After the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling that marriage is a fundamental right to which same-sex couples should have the same access as different-sex couples, bringing marriage equality nationwide, employers have sought to do the right thing in the name of equality. While marriage equality is undoubtedly a monumental step towards full equality, LGBTQ individuals remain at risk for discrimination in many other walks of life. 

LGBTQ Americans can get legally married but remain at risk of being denied services for who they are or risk being fired simply for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office the next day. Lacking protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity through federal and consistent state law, it remains legal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in employment, housing, and access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. Until LGBTQ Americans have full equality through the Equality Act, the CEI standards will continue to fill the void left by federal and state law, better serving the U.S. workforce. 
While HRC never changed its partner benefits mandate, a small number of companies moved to marriage only in the middle of the 2016 CEI season. These employers assumed that with the marriage ruling, the need for partner benefits was gone. This is not true and in fact, over the last decade most businesses that have offered same-sex partner benefits also extended these to different-sex partners to better meet the needs of their own diverse workforces. In other words, businesses have been decoupling benefits from the legal definition of marriage. Out of an abundance of understanding for our companies, we are accepting spousal equivalent benefits until the 2019 CEI, while ramping up our outreach efforts. 

In the spirit of parity and partnership with our CEI participants, employers must offer both same-and different-sex partner benefits for a 100% in the 2019 Corporate Equality Index. The CEI continues to look beyond the law to actual best practices for LGBTQ workers and their families. 

As in the CEI 2017 (released Nov. 2016), for the CEI 2018 (calendar year 2017):

  • Companies with full parity of benefits between same- and different-sex spouses or between same- and different-sex domestic partners will receive full credit of 10 points.
  • Companies with spousal benefits only will receive full credit provided the definition of “spouse” in contracts and benefit paperwork is demonstrably inclusive of both same-and different-sex spouses. 

Starting with CEI 2019 (calendar year 2018):

  • Barring any change to federal law allowing for full non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, full parity of benefits requires access to benefits for same- and different-sex spouses as well as for same- and different-sex domestic partners. 
  • To account for full family diversity, same-sex spousal benefits AND same- and different-sex domestic partner benefits will be necessary to achieve full credit of 10 points. (In essence we are giving companies a grace period to return to the original CEI mandate of partner benefits).

Transgender-Inclusive Benefits: Removal of all Exclusions 

To date, HRC, through our work in the Corporate Equality Index, has required private employers to mitigate exclusions for transition-related care in insurance documents, while also affirming care for transition-related benefits to earn the designation of “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.” Federal law now bans (under the Affordable Care Act and with the clarification of Section 1557) sex discrimination in health programs.  In HRC’s and NCTE’s legal analysis mandates related to transgender healthcare coverage are ones in which any procedure offered to a cisgender  individual must also be offered for a transgender or transitioning individual without exclusion. Understanding that the insurance market is evolving, businesses may be placing themselves at legal risk if they continue benefits plans containing transgender exclusions, even if riders or other plans affirm transition-related care or coverage for transgender individuals elsewhere.

As in the CEI 2017 (released Nov. 2016), for the CEI 2018 (calendar year 2017):

10 points for equal health coverage for transgender individuals in at least one firm-wide available plan without exclusion for medically necessary care that meets the following baseline criteria:

  • Insurance contract explicitly affirms coverage
  • Plan documentation is readily available to employees and clearly communicates inclusive insurance options to employees and their eligible dependents
  • Benefits available to other employees must extend to transgender individuals. Where available for employees, the following benefits should all extend to transgender individuals, including for services related to transgender transition (e.g., medically necessary services related to sex reassignment):
    • Short term medical leave
    • Mental health benefits
    • Pharmaceutical coverage (e.g., for hormone replacement therapies)
    • Coverage for medical visits or laboratory services
    • Coverage for reconstructive surgical procedures related to sex reassignment

Starting with CEI 2019 (calendar year 2018):

  • Any blanket exclusions for transition related care must be eliminated in all health care plans. Explicit affirmation of coverage adhering to the criteria (since 2012 CEI) is required retain the full 10 points (i.e. we are maintaining the existing standard)

Supplier Diversity: Aligning LGBTQ with Other Diverse Business Segments

Supplier diversity programs ensure that the procurement process includes specific opportunities for minority-owned businesses, including women-owned, veteran-owned and, more recently, LGBTQ-owned businesses. Supplier diversity initiatives have existed in the business community for at least three decades, going back to the inception of such groups as the National Association of Women Business Owners and the National Minority Business Council, both founded in the early 1970s to promote the inclusion of these under-utilized entrepreneurial groups.  Furthermore, there are federal initiatives such as the Center for Veterans Enterprise that is designed to assist U.S. veterans in launching and thriving in private business. These initiatives intend to give more equitable opportunities to those would-be small business owners who are more likely to face social and practical barriers to success.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce began certifying LGBTQ-owned small businesses in 2002, a process that requires substantiation of majority LGBTQ ownership in a business and verification of a business’ good standing in the community. Supplier diversity initiatives are a win-win relationship for both the LGBTQ-owned small businesses and the businesses that contract them. By courting LGBTQ-owned businesses, over one-third of 2017 CEI rated companies and law firms demonstrated their commitment to LGBTQ inclusion and now reap the benefits of working with businesses in the diverse communities in which they operate. While the CEI criteria will not prescribe the addition of a supplier diversity program nor NGLCC membership, it is seen as a best practice by many leading companies with world-class supplier diversity programs. 

As in the CEI 2017 (released Nov. 2016), for the CEI 2018 (calendar year 2017):

  • Participants will continue earning credit for having an LGBTQ supplier diversity program as one of their three efforts to earn 10 points under Public Engagement.

Starting with CEI 2019 (calendar year 2018):

  • Participants with a supplier diversity program must include LGBTQ suppliers in their outreach efforts to maintain full credit in this section. Participants with a supplier diversity program that does not include LGBTQ diversity will lose 5 points under Public Engagement.
  • Participants need not be NGLCC partners, but must have outreach to LGBTQ-owned businesses if seeking credit in this category.