Human Rights Campaign Foundation Announces New Corporate Equality Index Criteria

by HRC Staff

Changes target improved benefits access for transgender employees, same-sex spouses and partners organizational competency and commitment on LGBT inclusion.

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, announced today a new set of criteria to be used in its annual Corporate Equality Index, which rates major U.S. employers on their benefits, policies and practices toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. The new criteria raise the requirements that businesses must satisfy to achieve a 100 percent rating on the Index in four primary areas including: health insurance access for transgender employees equal benefits for same-sex partners and spouses competency training and accountability on LGBT issues and external engagement with the LGBT community.

"In 2002, with the launch of the Corporate Equality Index, HRC began a dialogue with America's employers about how and why equality for LGBT employees would improve employee recruitment and retention and the bottom line," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "It worked. Employers from all industries and regions of the country responded with unprecedented speed to amend non-discrimination policies and expand access to employment benefits vital to healthy employees and their families. Today, we focus that dialogue on the work that remains to be done to meet the goal of full equality, and on the practices that truly distinguish the best of the best."

The most significant change relates to access to health insurance for transgender employees. The new criteria will require that all employees have access to at least one insurance plan that contains no exclusions for transgender-specific care and recognizes internationally-accepted medical standards of care. The current criteria, announced in 2004 and implemented in 2006, require insurance plans to cover at least one out of five categories of treatment and were designed to educate employers and their insurance carriers about the insurance needs of transgender people. Employers have been required to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity to achieve a 100 percent rating since the CEI began in 2002.

"These new criteria get right to the core issues of how insurance plans exclude transgender employees. By aligning the new requirements to 'medically necessary' coverage defined by recognized standards of care and removing transgender-related exclusions from healthcare plans, we have significantly raised the bar allowing businesses to enhance their commitment to all employees," said Meghan Stabler, national transgender activist and HRC Business Council member. "Right now, hundreds of businesses will begin working to expand coverage to transgender employees. With this powerful new tool, our community must set out to educate human resource and benefits professionals about why these benefits are needed, not just for individual employees and their dependents, but to secure employer-of-choice status in the LGBT community."

To receive 100 percent under the new criteria, benefits for same-sex spouses and couples must be fully equivalent to those provided to employees with different-sex spouses to the extent permitted by law including: medical and dependant coverage, COBRA-equivalent benefits, retirement benefits, FMLA-equivalent leave, bereavement leave and others. The current criteria require businesses offer a number of these benefits equally.

"We understand that the success of our business depends on our ability to build a workforce that reflects the full diversity of our customers," said Aetna (NYSE: AET) president Mark Bertolini. "We applaud the Human Rights Campaign for its efforts to improve access to health insurance and embrace the opportunity to provide products and services that meet the unique needs of the LGBT community."

The new criteria provide higher standards for measuring a business' engagement with the broader LGBT community. Businesses will be rewarded for demonstrated, ongoing supplier diversity programs that include LGBT-owned suppliers, public support for equal rights legislation and sustained sponsorship and philanthropy. The new criteria also enhance requirements for diversity training, resources and accountability.

The Corporate Equality Index is the only national benchmark of employer policies toward LGBT employees in the U.S. It rates businesses on a scale from 0 to 100 based on key criteria that define corporate social responsibility in this area. The Index was launched in 2002 with 13 businesses receiving a rating of 100 percent. In 2004, the first set of criteria changes were announced, which took effect in 2006. In spite of the more difficult criteria, 135 businesses reached 100 percent in 2006. In 2009, 260 businesses received 100 percent ratings. The latest changes will take effect in our Corporate Equality Index 2012 report, released in September of 2011. The HRC Foundation provides advance notice to businesses to allow them to work on the new criteria, some of which require months of preparation, prior to their implementation. Business ratings are based solely on policies and benefits in their U.S. operations.

"With these new standards, the CEI will continue to be a powerful incentive for businesses to make real change that will impact the everyday lives of LGBT Americans in every corner of our country," said Daryl Herrschaft, Director of the HRC Foundation Workplace Project. "But it will not happen by itself. Between now and 2011, it will take the coordinated effort of employees and LGBT advocates to make these policy changes reality."

The changes to the criteria are derived from feedback from the community including HRC members, communications from participating businesses, conversations at workplace conferences and stakeholder discussions. The process was overseen by HRC Workplace Project staff in close coordination with the HRC Business Council, an advisory group of LGBT workplace activists and our allies.

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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