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.



Other corporations with progressive records on transgender coverage have worked this year to achieve similar parity and will include additional benefits effective January 1, said Todd Solomon, an attorney in Chicago who specializes in LGBT employee benefits issues (he declined to name specific companies that have already implemented increased coverage or are preparing to do so, citing client confidentiality reasons).

“The companies I’m talking to who believe in fully inclusive benefits probably would have ended up doing this at some point anyway, though the [HRC] survey brought it to the forefront of their attention,” said Solomon, whose firm, McDermott Will & Emery, has also implemented comprehensive trans health benefits aligned with WPATH care standards. “This is certainly an emerging trend, and I expect many more employers to add this benefit in the coming year."

Last month Google joined Starbucks, Microsoft, and other American corporations in an amicus brief opposing DOMA, which they argue undermines workplace equality and hurts the bottom line, in part because of the byzantine accounting practices for gay employees versus straight employees that they are forced to implement.

Meanwhile, the cost of covering transgender-related health care benefits at Google is expected to be minimal for the company, which reported $8.5 billion in profits last year.

“Our assessment of most large companies shows that the cost of providing comprehensive benefits is negligible,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, where transgender health benefits have been offered to city employees since 2001. Seattle and Portland, Ore. have recently followed suit for its municipal employees.

Newman said that Google used information on the number of employees who have previously taken advantage of transitioning procedure benefits under the smaller lifetime cap to project how many workers might use the enhanced benefit offerings. “While it's impossible to know exactly how many people will decide to use these new benefits, we decided that it was well worth the cost,” he said.

Beginning in June, Davis’ organization consulted with Google on expanding such health benefits — an initiative that never included questions of “if” or “why,” he said.

“We’ve never worked with a company so clearly dedicated to doing the best they can with transgender employees,” Davis said. “I would anticipate that what they’ve adopted will become the gold standard in the United States.”

In addition to influencing benefits policy, the Gaygler groups have also promoted a fiercely LGBT-friendly face for Google in recent years, even in less progressive locales around the globe, company representatives said.

Google Singapore, which has a Gaygler chapter, was a first-time sponsor in 2011 of the annual Pink Dot event, attended in June by over 10,000 people in the city’s Hong Lim Park. Sex between men remains illegal in the country, with penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment (Newman said the company carefully considers safety concerns for its employees when deciding whether to officially sponsor pride events around the world).

“In places where opinions about LGBT people aren’t as favorable, where it’s not as normal for gay people to be out, these chapters have really made a difference,” said Matt Yalowitz, a senior policy analyst at Google who helped launch the company’s Ann Arbor, Mich., Gaygler chapter in 2007. “People have told us that if there hadn’t been a Gaylger group in their office, they simply wouldn’t have felt comfortable being at out work.”
Tags: Business