The Human Rights Campaign Foundation ("HRC") recently released the results of its 2011 Corporate Equality Index. The Index is the HRC's nationally-recognized ranking of large employers throughout the United States on workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") individuals. Employers listed in Fortune magazine's 1,000 largest publicly-traded businesses, American Lawyer magazine's top 200 revenue-grossing law firms, and Forbes magazine's 200 largest private businesses are invited to participate in the annual survey. In addition, any private sector, for-profit employer with 500 or more full time employees in the United States can request to participate.
Employers are surveyed for the Index on a series of criteria that demonstrate the employer's commitment to equal treatment of all people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. To score highly on the 2011 Index, employers had to offer same-sex partners of employees and their legal dependents medical, dental and vision insurance coverage as well as COBRA-equivalent continuation coverage. In addition, employers had to offer at least three of the following benefits to employees' same-sex partners: leave equivalent to that provided under the Family Medical Leave Act, bereavement leave, employer-provided supplemental life insurance, relocation/travel assistance, adoption assistance, qualified joint and survivor annuities, qualified pre-retirement survivor annuities, retiree healthcare benefits or employee discounts.
The results of the 2011 Index show that an increasing number of employers are taking action to ensure that LGBT employees and their partners are treated equally in the workplace. When the Index was first introduced in 2002, only 13 of the 319 employers surveyed received a perfect 100 score. The 2011 Index evaluated 616 employers, 337 of whom received a perfect rating. Over half of the 263 Fortune 500-ranked employers evaluated on the 2011 Index scored a perfect rating. Employers that receive a perfect rating on the Index are recognized by the HRC as one of the "Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality" and are encouraged to use this distinction in their recruitment and marketing efforts.
The results of the 2011 Index reflect the significant impact that changing attitudes and strong commitments to equality are having on the lives of LGBT individuals. For example, 99% of the employers evaluated in 2011 prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, providing important protections that are not provided under federal law to over 15 million employees. 95 percent of the employers evaluated provide health coverage to same-sex partners of employees, giving over 14 million employees access to vital medical benefits for their partners and families.
Although the 2011 Index reflects great progress in advancing workplace equality for LGBT individuals, it also reveals where change continues to be needed. For example, although 99 percent of the employers surveyed prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, only 76 percent extend that protection to discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In addition, although 79 percent of the employers surveyed provide at least one type of health benefit to transgender employees, 65 percent of those employers do not provide coverage for medical services or treatments relating to gender transition.
In order to continue raising the bar on the comprehensive benefits and inclusive employment practices and policies that employers must implement in order to ensure LGBT individuals are treated equally, the HRC periodically updates the criteria on which employers are evaluated for the annual Index. The next update will be to the criteria used for the 2012 Index, which will stress comprehensive employee benefits for same-sex spouses and partners, transgender-inclusive medical and short-term disability benefits, organizational competency on LGBT issues and public engagement with the LGBT community.