Transgender medical benefits help build loyalty

They likely won’t be heavily used but programs – like one at Accenture – show support
By Claudia Thompson and Nicholas Greschner
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/16/2013

For a company to truly support inclusion and diversity, those principles must be considered throughout the entire enterprise — not limited to polices in the human resources manual. It’s about growing and stretching beyond the usual way of doing business, to rethink the employee experience from all perspectives.

That’s why Accenture enhanced its health benefits program to offer wide-ranging medical benefits to transgendered employees in Canada and the United States, designed to enable them to successfully integrate into the workplace and society, post-transition.

The primary objective was to support any employee in transition with a confidential and individualized health plan that offers assistance throughout the entire process. While the actual number of employees and their dependants over 18 who make use of these benefits will not be significantly high, what matters is a very high level of support is being offered to those employees who need it.

This is similar to the company’s commitment to offer Canadian employees up to $15,000 in costs related to in-vitro fertilization.

Happy employees, who feel supported by their organization at a challenging and sensitive time, will ultimately be more loyal and engaged. It comes down to this: Being there for your people when they need their company — not just financially but by providing benefits that communicate the underlying principles of inclusion and diversity.

As employers consider offering enhanced benefits for transgender employees, there are several best practices to consider:

Listen to employees.

A team developing such a comprehensive benefits model must first consult with its employee base. This may involve consulting with internal communities and addressing the issue directly with any employee interest groups.

Our enhanced benefits for transgender employees are "by employees, for employees" — they were jointly developed by transgendered employees as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employee resource group and the North American benefits team.

Accenture’s Canadian employees have been instrumental in LGBT policy development, including creating and updating transition guidelines for transgendered employees and reviewing health benefit options.

Avoid a one–size-fits-all policy. No two transgender transitions are alike, which is why an employer should provide individualized support. As the coverage offered by each province differs, an employee should first address the provincial medical plan requirements to receive coverage under her provincial plan.

Upon approval by the province, enhanced transgender benefits will become available to the employee, with the province as the first payer.

At Accenture, the insurer evaluates each request and service submitted by an employee. Depending on her needs and transition plan, coverage may include the cost of gender reassignment surgery, including physician fees, charges for standard accommodation at a private clinic and associated psychiatric therapy costs. This coverage is provided so long as the employee has completed a recognized program at a specialized gender identity treatment centre, resulting in a recommendation for gender reassignment surgery — and a portion of the costs are covered by the provincial plan.

Our coverage may also include fees for any support or treatment required by a current provincial plan in order to consider eligibility for gender-reassignment surgery while the employee is on a waiting list.

All other charges incurred in association with gender reassignment surgery may be payable under the appropriate covered expense, on the same basis as if those charges were incurred for any other reason.

The extent of the coverage can range from partial to full transition, depending on the approval process with the provincial plan, the coverage the employee receives and the employee’s personal choices around transition.

Clearly communicate the benefits to all employees.

In designing an enhanced program, an organization demonstrates its commitment to being an employer of choice. But if the benefits are not communicated internally, the employer risks a lack of awareness for this level of support. A communications plan on enhanced benefits for transgendered employees should include internal newsletters, social media and external announcements, as well as the benefits website or brochure.

Promote a culture of diversity and inclusion at every level. Inclusion and diversity should be a key priority for organizations to truly foster an innovative, collaborative and high-energy work environment. It isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also a key business driver, promoting a rich range of talent representing different styles, perspectives and experiences.

Good leaders understand that employees are happiest when they can bring their whole selves to work and are treated as respected members of the team. That’s why an employee considering transition must feel supported within the entire organization.

Claudia Thompson is Canadian managing director of human capital and diversity and Nicholas Greschner is Canadian director of human resources at Accenture. For more information, visit www.accenture.com.

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