Best Companies of 2010: The Case For a Raise



 But people started to pay a little more attention in June, when The New York Times broke news that Google had decided to cover the additional tax its many gay employees face through a policy that is inelegantly known in human resources parlance as “grossing up.” Granted, Google has the cash on hand—$30.1 billion as of press time—to offer such a benefit without much of a drag on the bottom line. And though the company has won accolades for enacting this policy, it wasn’t the first. A handful of other companies previously adopted similar practices, including Kimpton Hotels and technology company Cisco Systems. But it was the decision by the search engine behemoth that really caught the business world’s attention. “I would expect Google’s competitors for employees to feel the most pressure to enact the same policy,” says M.V. Lee Badgett, research director for the Williams Institute and a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“The climate is changing very quickly,” says Todd A. Solomon, author of Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide and a partner in employee benefits at the law firm McDermott Will and Emery in Chicago. “With the Prop. 8 [court] decision, who knows what this will do to the national—and corporate—consciousness.”

Solomon regularly consults with major companies about domestic-partner benefits and says he’s fielded more calls about the “gross-up” option in the past month than in the past two years (“Google was the icing on the cake,” he says). Among those currently asking his advice are also companies beyond Silicon Valley—in particular, professional services employers, often located in more liberal U.S. cities (Solomon declined to name of any of the companies).

Prior to this year, Solomon says, most companies seeking equality in benefits for gay employees put their energy into lobbying Congress for a change in the tax code. They did so through a group known as the Business Coalition for Benefits Tax Equity, whose more than 70 members include Bank of America, Deloitte, and Levi Strauss. Current tax code, the group argues, is burdensome not only to gay workers with partner benefits but also to the companies themselves, which have to pay additional payroll taxes and invest in separate record keeping for married couples and same-sex partners.

The Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, proposed most recently in 2009 in the Senate by New York’s Charles Schumer and in the House by Washington State’s Jim McDermott and Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, would end the added tax burden for many domestic partners, though the language of the bill doesn’t include any specific reference to gay couples. The choice of language is significant, given that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act explicitly prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. Instead, the term “eligible beneficiary” is used.
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