We’ve talked in the past about the idea that not all benefits are utilized equally by employees and how this may inadvertently create a situation in which benefits seem to help some employees much more than others. This is often the case for benefits that target those who are married or those with children. The examples we gave included healthcare benefits (those who are married and/or have children may get a greater benefit as a result), family-related leave, and bereavement leave.
Thankfully, there are ways employers can try to remedy this issue.
Ways to Combat Inequality in Benefit Offerings
One of the easiest ways to address this issue is to ensure that policies at the employer level do not require an employee to be married or have children in order to participate in specific benefits. Here are some examples:
- Unmarried individuals often have caregiving responsibilities, both for children like nieces and nephews and for parents and others. So, one easy way to make caregiving benefits more equal is to provide them to a broader group of people.
- Consider offering health insurance benefits for a significant other, even if that person is not a spouse, and handle this in the same way spousal benefits are handled. There may be taxation implications, so consult legal or tax advice for answers to questions.)
Another option is to offer other benefits that everyone can take advantage of. Here are some examples:
- Paid time off (PTO) for activities like volunteering or training or adopting a pet.
- Consider making a larger PTO bank and allowing people to use it as they see fit instead of delineating PTO for specific things that are related to family needs.
- Offer packages so employees can choose the benefits they will find most useful, up to X different options.
- Ensure bereavement leave can be utilized for more than just a spouse or child. Ensure it covers significant others, for example.
As we noted in the original article, sometimes the problem isn’t the benefit itself but rather the way employees are treated differently when utilizing it. For example, maybe the company doesn’t strictly track the number of sick days a parent takes when he or she leaves partway through the day to pick up a sick child from school or when he or she leaves early for children’s events, thus giving parents more PTO inadvertently. The way to remedy this type of situation is to treat employees consistently. If PTO is to be tracked strictly, then do so for everyone. If PTO is handled more loosely, then do that for everyone. Be sure to train managers to be consistent—both within their teams and with each other—so that different departments or teams don’t get different treatment.
Know that there will never be a truly equal option because different employees will utilize different benefits in their own ways, but there are steps employers can take to make things as equitable as possible.