At Google, a Transgender "Gold Standard"

The search engine giant has significantly increased its coverage of transgender health care for its U.S. employees — and other companies are soon expected to follow suit.

BY admin

November 22 2011 9:00 AM ET

In a move predicted by one advocate to become the gold standard for LGBT health, Google has significantly increased coverage of transgender health care for its U.S. employees, and other companies are expected to follow suit.

The updated benefits, announced internally by company officials on Friday and effective immediately, cover transitioning procedures and treatment in accordance with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s (WPATH) Standards of Care, and include gender reassignment surgical procedures determined to be medically necessary by a doctor.

Some of the procedures covered by Google’s health care plan include genital surgery as well as facial feminization for transgender women and pectoral implants for transgender men — surgeries that can be considered medically necessary depending on the “unique clinical situation of a given patient’s condition and life situation,” according to WPATH’s seventh version of care standards, published in September.

“As the WPATH Standards of Care are considered the highest standards of care for transgender individuals, we agreed to cover the full range of procedures under WPATH,” Google spokesman Jordan Newman told The Advocate.

Google also has more than doubled the maximum dollar amount for transgender health care benefits, from $35,000 to $75,000, the minimum amount required for a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2012 Corporate Equality Index, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The benefits are covered by the company’s existing insurance providers and apply to domestic employees, Newman said. Google is considering extending similar benefits to international employees, though it does not currently have a timeline for doing so.

While Google’s benefits track the updated criteria of HRC’s latest annual workplace equality survey, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which has active LGBT employee groups known as “Gayglers” in offices from Michigan to Singapore, also sees the move as part of a larger progressive strategy crucial to maintaining a competitive edge.

In June, Google joined a small but growing list of companies that offer additional salary for gay employees whose domestic-partner health insurance benefits are taxed as income by the federal government — a result of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. In the practice, known in benefits parlance as “gross-ups,” employers reimburse workers for the added tax incurred, which averages around $1,069 a year, according to a 2007 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The tech giant Cisco and boutique hotel chain Kimpton also are among the handful of businesses that have adopted the policy.

Google began reevaluating its transgender health coverage more than a year before adding its gross-ups policy, Newman said, with discussions continuing throughout 2011 between Gaygler representatives, outside consultants, and Google’s executives and benefits team.

“We're always looking for new ways to create a more inclusive culture and support our employees,” said Sarah Stuart, program manager of Google’s global diversity and inclusion team. “The decision to improve our benefits for our LGBT employees started as a grassroots effort driven by the Gayglers, who worked closely with our benefits team.”

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