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Cost And Value Of Offering Benefits To Domestic Partnership

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According to Human Rights Campaign Work Net (2006) fringe benefits such

as health and life insurance, a pension or profit-sharing has long been a way for

employers to compensate their workers, and for one company to obtain a competitive

edge over another. While most employers that offer benefits such as health insurance and

dental care also make those benefits available to their employees' spouses and legal

dependents, the idea of extending such benefits to the domestic partner (DP) of unmarried

employees, including lesbian and gay employees, is a newer concept.

In the American society today, most people think of domestic partnership when it

applies to homosexual relationships. Our team has come to the conclusion that, when

presenting this topic to any corporation, it is essential to include as many different

definitions of domestic partnership as possible. Domestic partner benefits can include

medical and dental insurance, disability and life insurance, pension benefits, family and

bereavement leave, education and tuition assistance, credit union membership, relocation

and travel expenses and inclusion of partners in company events. Employment policies

of corporations should not be designed to change personal values, they are designed to

foster and atmosphere of fairness and professional respect at work. Domestic partner

benefits are equal pay for equal work, a tool for attracting and keeping the best

employees and a means of improving employee productivity.

Domestic Partner Benefits 3

Prior to World War II few companies offered comprehensive benefit programs to their

employees. Of the few that did offer benefits, only the employee was covered not their

family. Families most often depended on fraternal orders and community assistance to

meet their needs. Throughout the decade following WW II, unions fought for and

negotiated benefits for employees and their families. As corporations began to design

their employee benefit programs they used 1950's sitcom families such as Father knows

Best as models for their definition of family. These policies still are geared more toward

the idealized family model rather than the diverse makeup of households today. As a

result few corporate benefit programs truly meet the needs of many of their employee's

families. Laws that traditionally define families as individuals related by blood, marriage

or adoption reinforced corporation's cultural message. Over the next couple of decades

the makeup of families changed even more. The divorce rate increased considerably and

unmarried couples began living together. As couples remarried they found themselves in

blended families with dependent

stepchildren. As a result the legal interpretation of the

term "family" has been used to exclude blended families and domestic partners from vital

legal protections and benefits. In this way the government has helped to protect

corporations from the responsibility of changing and updating their benefit programs to

meet the needs of diverse family formations.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was designed to protect

families under employer-sponsored benefit packages, but its creation actually undercut

that protection by allowing employers to put marriage requirements into their benefit

plans. Corporations can now say they follow nondiscriminatory policies, but without

national laws requiring legal recognition and protection of non-traditional families, many

Domestic Partner Benefits 4

employers can continue to dismiss the demands of the modern family without fear of


With the growing diverse makeup of families in society, some courts recognize

the need for a "functional family" bound by emotional and economic commitments rather

than the traditional factors of blood, marriage or adoption. Some of the factors that

determine the existence of a functional family are the exclusivity and longevity of the

relationships, as well as the level of emotional and financial commitment. Based on the

concept of a "functional family" some legal commentators have called for household

units to receive legal recognition and protection to help sustain non-traditional families.

Despite considerable demographic shifts most employers have not shifted their focus

away from the 1950's "beneficial family" policies. Most corporations still only extend

their benefit packages to the employee, their spouse and dependent


To date few companies have adopted domestic partner programs, but the majority

of the employers who have adopted these policies only offer low cost benefits such as,

family, bereavement, and sick leave. Only a small percentage of companies offer



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