Google has announced that starting immediately, it will consider domestic partnerships between gay and lesbian couples to be the same as legal marriages in terms of health benefits, and it will compensate employees that are paying the additional taxes on benefits for their partners.
Federal law states that health benefits granted to an employee’s domestic partner are classified as taxable income, while married couples are exempt. According to a New York Times article, gay and lesbian employees that claim their partner on their health insurance pay roughly $1,070 more in taxes per year than their married counterparts. The new compensation that goes into effect today is retroactive from January 1, and will pay that difference as well as any additional taxes from benefits for dependents.
According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP for People Operations (aka human resources), Google began to investigate the situation after a gay employee brought the disparity to their attention.
“We said, ‘You’re right, that doesn’t seem fair,’ so we looked into it,” Bock said. “From that initial suggestion, we said, let’s take a look at all the benefits we offer and see if we are being truly fair across the board.”
As a result, Google will also now offer domestic partners time off based on the family leave policy, which grants up to 12 weeks leave in a one year period to care for family members in need of medical attention. Gay and lesbian employees will also no longer have to wait through a one-year waiting period before qualifying for infertility benefits.
Congress recently considered removing the health care tax for domestic partners during the health care debate, but it became a point of contention, and was removed before the recent health care bill was signed by President Obama.
The Mountain Valley, California- based Google isn’t the first to offer additional pay to gay and lesbian employees, but it is among the first in Silicon Valley. With top talent at a premium, gay and lesbian workers in the tech field may be drawn to Google, which could cause a ripple effect through the industry when it comes to in demand employees. If it becomes common for some of the biggest companies to consider health benefits for same-sex partners to be a right, not a taxable exception, the implications could be far reaching.
Google currently employs 20,600 employees worldwide. It is unclear how many would be effected by this new compensation, but there is an internal gay and lesbian group- The Gayglers- that claims over 700 members.