On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision, which ended 50 years of the right to abortion.
This ruling has devastating effects on not just women, but families, men and the LGBTQ community. The Roe vs, Wade decision impacts our workplaces in several ways, not least of which is an increased threat to gender equality at work. If you are struggling to understand how this decision might affect your employees, your human resources policies, and more, you are not alone. Here are a few immediate concerns worth addressing.
How the Dobbs Decision (and the End of Roe vs. Wade) Affects Workplaces
1. Changes to Medical Coverage
The most obvious impact is medical coverage. Benefits brokers and insurance companies are now watching to see what each state will require, and these requirements will directly impact access to healthcare and coverage options. In trigger states, pre-existing laws enacted these requirements immediately, and many lost their coverage options. BCBS of MA issued a release on June 24th after the decision, which includes a requirement for employers to “Opt-In” for “Reproductive Health Travel Benefit Rider Options: for groups 51-99 and 100+. This policy puts the responsibility on the employer.
Eric Jermyn is the President of Employee Benefits at Cross Insurance, a benefits broker in New England. Jermyn’s team has been closely monitoring what’s happening and relaying the impact to their clients. “We are working closely with our legal resources to guide our clients as they try to navigate this challenging and ever-changing situation,” Jermyn says. As an intermediary between employers and medical insurance providers, Cross is witnessing the direct — and significant — impact on employers.
2. “Aiding and Abetting” Penalties
You’ve likely heard about potential “aiding and abetting” laws in some states and how this could result in legal action against individuals who support a woman’s access to abortion. There’s a possibility that states could also levy these laws against companies that support abortion rights.
Many companies are introducing reimbursement programs to protect and support employees’ access to abortions in the wake of the overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision. This includes the cost of traveling to receive one. According to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, “Companies including Starbucks Corp., Uber Technologies Inc., and Amazon.com Inc. have said they would reimburse travel for medical services including abortion. Just Eat Takeaway.com N.V.’s Grubhub and Dick’s Sporting Goods said they would provide up to $4,000 to cover expenses traveling for services not available in their home state.”
Other organizations will likely follow suit to support employees and their health and medical needs, including abortion care. However, with solidarity comes risks in certain states and cases. Some states have enacted penalties, including fines and prison sentences, on those aiding and abetting others to seek an abortion. In some states, the prison sentence can be up to life in prison!
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3. Setbacks for Equality at Work
Perhaps the most devastating impact of this decision is yet another setback for equality for those who already face workplace discrimination. Ms. Magazine puts it like this:
“Imagine an employer, in an abortion-illegal state, interviewing potential employees for a fast food business or any business with low-income employees. Imagine for that job opening that there are both male and female candidates of childbearing age. Why wouldn’t the employer favor the male candidate at this point? The employer knows that the woman can no longer control her fertility. Why would an employer hire the woman, knowing she is an employment risk? These decisions may never be spoken aloud, but they will be contemplated—they are already being contemplated, logically, in states like Texas. It is no longer safe for women to work in these states.”
On top of that, only four states in the United States offer paid paternity leave, leaving the mothers with most of the responsibility in the first few months of a child’s life. If you’re an employer faced with that decision, which candidate would you hire?
How to Support Your Employees in a Post-Dobbs Era
So, what can employers do to support their employees that may be affected by the Roe vs. Wade decision? What can HR professionals offer to their organizations as a response? While a political decision has been made, the ongoing social, financial, and emotional affect of losing access to healthcare means that employees are looking to employers for a response. Here are a few ways you can meet those needs.
1. Acknowledge and Communicate
The impact of this decision has a ripple effect. Those who believe in reproductive justice are devastated; those who need, or may need, abortion care are living in fear. But it goes beyond that. The LGBTQ community worries about what this means for their future rights to family planning and gay marriage. People everywhere are reconsidering their approach to family planning. Some of us are considering relocating from anti-abortion states, increasing the already looming risk of The Great Resignation for companies in those states.
You must acknowledge how deeply each of your employees is affected. The decision of Roe vs. Wade needs to be addressed. Even if you can’t financially support your employees’ access to abortion care, you can let them know that you empathize with them and offer them support through your Employee Assistance Program or your Human Resources team. Your response can be as simple as stating that you are working with your brokers or insurance teams to understand the impact and offer resources for struggling employees. Here’s an example message:
Example Message to Acknowledge Roe vs. Wade
“Over the past several days, many of us have been processing the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. We recognize that abortion is a polarizing issue; however, we believe that a person’s access to healthcare, reproductive or otherwise, is a human right. Therefore, we are working with our benefits vendors to ensure that our employees have access to the full spectrum of medical care that they need, regardless of the state in which they live. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”
2. Offer Resources to Get Involved
You’re reading this article because you want to do more. Many of your employees want to do more, as well. You can offer resources to your employees to help them understand the impact and how to get involved. They can protest, volunteer, donate money, write to their elected officials, and more. Reach out to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see what resources they have available that you can share with your employees. Additionally, You can work with your EAP to hire a counselor to come on-site to talk with employees.
3. Enlist Your Employee Resource Groups
Companies tend to think that Human Resources professionals have all the answers. But you don’t have to create a response or program all on your own. Reach out to your Employer Resource Groups or create one to help the women in your organization process this and recommend the next steps for your organization. Enacting a Women’s Resource Group and/or an LGBTQ Resource Group could be extremely helpful to your employees to feel heard and have a platform to share their concerns and/or ideas.
Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are groups that are typically self-formed by employees with similar interests. Many organizations have these groups to help employees share ideas, educate themselves and others, and offer a sense of belonging within an organization. Some organizations might compensate employees for leading the ERGs to ensure they are given their proper attention. Simply put, ERGs are also a great way to lean in and listen to the challenges your employees are facing — and to better understand how to support them.
4. Create a Policy or Program
Select Software Reviews recently posted an article outlining what companies are doing to support their employees during this time. Some are offering a stipend for care and mileage, and some are making donations to Planned Parenthood. Many are issuing public statements of support, including this release from Indeed:
“Employees on Indeed’s insurance will continue to be reimbursed for travel expenses for covered medical procedures unavailable where they live. Anything limiting women’s freedom to make their own decisions about their health hurts them and society. Limiting access to safe and affordable health care will hit hardest in marginalized communities. This is especially true for people of color and those in lower-income brackets.”
There are many things you can do to support your employees. The enormity of this situation may feel paralyzing, so it can help to gather some valuable information first. You can reach out to your insurance carrier to see what they are doing and what you can do to continue offering abortion coverage.
However, if you create a policy, you’ll also want to consider privacy. Employees may not feel comfortable telling you that they need to have an abortion. Requiring them to come forward to receive care is a barrier. Offering a stipend for travel for any health-related issue, including abortion, is a great way to respect their privacy and family planning decisions. Also, you can outline a policy for protecting anonymity if anyone needs to seek care and share it with all employees for transparency.
Regardless of your views on Roe vs, Wade, this decision will profoundly impact our society and every single one of your employees. Your employees are thinking about it, talking about it, and wondering what the future holds for healthcare access and their families. You have to get out there and talk with your employees about it — and tell them what you’re going to do.
If you don’t, employees will fill in the blanks. What story is your story? That you care about your team and value their health and needs or that you remain silent in the face of unprecedented news? The choice is yours.
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