The US Supreme Court abortion verdict - How the HR can help employees
Note: This article is not a commentary on the Supreme Court verdict, but merely a post that discusses aspects to consider for employers who plan to provide support to employees who wish to access reproductive healthcare.
The U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, held that there is no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and returned the authority to regulate abortion to individual states.
Changing legal landscape :
Abortion is now either severely restricted or banned in 9 states and that number is soon expected to rise to at least 26. Meanwhile, a Texas law allows private individuals to sue abortion providers and anyone who aids in an abortion, including cab drivers who knowingly ferry such passengers, after six weeks of pregnancy.
With many states having restrictions in place, such as requirements that young pregnant women involve their parents or a judge in their abortion decision, and others having long waiting periods between the time a woman first visits an abortion clinic and the actual procedure many women are having to travel further to get abortions, often across state borders, and they are having to pay more for them.
More employers are willing to support their employees
Several organizations have openly expressed their plans to support employees who wish access to reproductive healthcare primarily for the purpose of abortion. For example, Salesforce has said it will help employees relocate if they have concerns about access to reproductive healthcare. Lyft and Uber said they would pay the legal fees of drivers sued under the Texas abortion law. Vancouver-based Lush Handmade Cosmetics, which has many of its stores and workforce in the USA, is reviewing its healthcare coverage to make sure all US staff has access to reproductive healthcare services.
In some cases, the employees residing in a particular state (e.g., Texas) cannot access abortion services through their company provided healthcare plan while employees in another state (e.g., Washington State) can obtain it. In such cases the employee will have to travel to another state for healthcare. It is important that the HR or the employer communicate these aspects clearly to their employees and whether it will still be covered through the company's healthcare plan. Citigroup, for example, covers expenses for employees who must travel out of state to receive abortion care.
Employee communication is key
Whatever the case, it is very important that as an employer you communicate your stand and policies clearly and consistently to employees. Yelp is an example of a company that is doing this for its employees. In addition, the company is also educating employees and the larger public through its social media channels on the difference between crisis pregnancy centers, which offer counselling services, and centers that provide reproductive healthcare services.
As a HR professional, you might need to weigh in several aspects before initiating any company process to formally help your employees - your company culture, state / multi-state legal requirements, brand sensitivity, healthcare plan coverage, etc.
Changes in insurance coverage
If you provide your employees a company purchased insurance plan then you may see changes to the reproductive healthcare coverage. The provider might now, depending on the state, limit or completely exclude employer coverage for abortion-related and other reproductive healthcare services. This might apply even if the employee is willing to travel to a different state to access abortion healthcare. Employers in states such as Texas and Oklahoma should also consider 'trigger laws' that explicitly state that providing coverage or reimbursement of abortion expenses as aiding and abetting abortion.
Employers should have a clear understanding at all times of the legal ramifications of what they plan to do. Anti-abortion lawmakers have reiterated their stand on wanting to prosecute abortion seekers and individuals who assist them. For example, in states like Texas and Missouri, where abortions are restricted, employees who access abortion care could put themselves and their employers who helped them at legal risk.
The way forward
One should keep in mind that abortion is a sensitive topic and is closely interspersed with the individual's value system, principles, religious beliefs, and practices, and as such it should be handled so. Proactively having clearly stated workplace policies in place, on this topic, will help tide over a number of delicate scenarios when it comes to dealing with individual employees and groups.
Employment issues and laws will continue to evolve in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. Employers should stay abreast of changes to the legal landscape, make informed decisions and communicate updates to their workplace policies clearly and consistently to employees.