Fintechs navigate the murky legal territory of abortion benefits

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Companies of all stripes sprang into action after the Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked in early May. Banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase were among those firms declaring new benefits that would cover the cost of travel, and sometimes medical or legal, expenses for employees forced to seek abortions outside of their home states. Citi did this well ahead of the court decision, in March

Alloy, a company in New York City that helps banks automate identity and risk decisions for onboarding and other needs, was also ahead of the curve.

In January, chief revenue officer and co-founder Laura Spiekerman published a blog post detailing Alloy’s new benefits as a response to the Texas Heartbeat Act, or SB 8, which took effect in September 2021.

“As reproductive rights come under fire through our government, the leadership team at Alloy finds it essential that we take a more explicit stance in favor of reproductive rights,” she wrote. Alloy stated it would contribute up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for abortion care; provide up to $1,500 for out-of-pocket medical costs; and cover 50% of legal expenses up to $5,000 if any employee or their partner faces legal issues.  

Since then, several other fintechs, including the card issuing platform Marqeta, the investing and digital banking app provider Stash, and TomoCredit, a credit card provider for those without credit histories, have followed suit. Some are intentionally vocal about their policies in the hopes of encouraging their peers to adopt similar measures.

All these fintechs are navigating uncertain territory in efforts to protect their employees and uphold their values. Often, this has meant acting fast, even if the initial policies felt imperfect.

Beyond that, reproductive benefits could become a sticking point for potential or existing employees in states with restrictive laws, especially as companies become increasingly relaxed about hiring remote workers. The firms interviewed for this story are headquartered in either New York or California, but all have employees in states with severe restrictions.

“If employees feel a company is being silent on the issue, it could impact morale or the culture of the workforce,” said Melissa Atkins, a partner in the labor and employment group at the law firm Obermayer, pointing out that technology is already a male-dominant field. “It could have negative impacts on retention and hiring, which is crucial in some industries right now.”

Lynne Oldham, chief people officer at the New York City-based Stash, has seen statistics highlighting that these rights are of great concern for Generation Z and millennial individuals.

“Reproductive health is an employment issue,” she said. “And we have to be responsive to that.”

Building benefits on the fly

The fintechs interviewed for this story were quick to assure their staff that their rights were paramount.

“When the information was leaked, we let our employees know where we stood and that we were going to take action,” said Ioana Ellis, the interim chief human resources officer at Marqeta, which is based in Oakland, California. “Once the decision was confirmed, we explained what that looked like.”

The companies interviewed say they may revise these benefits going forward.

Marqeta’s $3,000 travel expense reimbursement, for example, covers full-time employees or any dependents who are plan participants and a companion of choice.

“The reaction to ‘companion of choice’ has been very positive. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your spouse or partner,” said Ellis.

Privacy became another sticky issue. For some companies, that meant outsourcing expense submissions to a vendor. 

Stash felt strongly about keeping employees’ data confidential. As a result, it is administering the program through Forma, a HIPAA-compliant third-party benefits platform. The company policy is to reimburse employees and their covered dependents up to $3,000 annually for interstate travel expenses related to accessing reproductive benefits under its health insurance plan. Employees will submit their eligible expenses to Forma for approval and reimbursement, meaning Stash will never see personal health care details or any information associated with the expenses.

“We are doing it in a way so people don’t feel like ‘I can’t submit this claim because John in finance will know,’ ” said Oldham.

Marqeta has offered a reproductive health benefit to all employees since January, separate from its regular health insurance, through a fertility care company called Carrot. Employees receive a lifetime stipend of $10,000 to put toward services such as in vitro fertilization, egg freezing, adoption and more; Carrot provides resources and live support. (This benefit predated the Roe v. Wade decision.)

Employees who need to travel out of state for an abortion will apply for reimbursement through Carrot, meaning their identity will be hidden to everyone at Marqeta.

Otherwise, maintaining privacy for affected employees is tough.

In Alloy’s case, employees will only disclose the situation to one person on the human resources team, who will code expenses for reimbursement; the rest of the team will not know the person’s identity. Alloy already grants unlimited paid time off.

A TomoCredit employee will have to speak to someone in human resources or to co-founder and CEO Kristy Kim to obtain the San Francisco-based TomoCredit’s coverage: 100% of legal expenses up to $5,000, up to $2,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners, and up to $2,500 for out-of-pocket medical costs for those in need of out-of-network abortion care. Whoever is informed will keep the matter private. 

Kim says she is trying to normalize the idea in her company that getting an abortion is a medical concern, not a political or ethical issue.

Speaking out despite legal questions

The legal risks of implementing such benefits are uncertain. 

Atkins likens it to earlier periods of the pandemic, when companies were scrambling to figure out remote work and vaccination policies. “It’s uncharted waters right now,” she said. “Until states implement laws surrounding abortion, benefits, or what implications can come from helping an abortion, even if you are a corporation, it’s unknown.”

At Marqeta, “We did consider that if one of our Texas employees would take advantage of this benefit, would that put Marqeta at risk?” said Ellis. “We decided that it is a possibility, but it’s much more important for our employees to know we have their backs.”

Stash approaches the dilemma in a similar vein.

“It’s what we feel is important to ensure equality,” Oldham said. She points out that big names such as Amazon and Microsoft are among the corporations that have announced such benefits, and speculates whether that could mitigate some risk. 

“But time will tell,” she said.

The ambiguity has not stopped some fintech leaders from going public with their efforts.

Spiekerman hoped that publishing Alloy’s stance online would encourage other fintech founders to offer similar protections. At the same time, she acknowledges that multiple founders have been advised by their general counsel to refrain from entering such murky territory.

“I think a lot of companies are having a discussion about how quiet do we want to be because we are afraid of legal repercussions,” said Spiekerman. “That was a conversation we didn’t have to have as an executive team. We all were on board that this was something we had to do.”

Kim feels similarly, especially as a female executive.

“I see this as one of my responsibilities,” she said. “It’s important for private companies to make a statement.” 

She voiced her thoughts on Medium in May, writing: “When I left my home country in South Korea as a young girl, I thought America is the place where women and men are truly equal and women can reach their full potential through their careers. … At TomoCredit women’s rights are human rights and we will continue to empower women everywhere.” 

Marqeta recently called attention to its travel expense coverage in a LinkedIn post. 

“We wanted to make sure that our employees and everyone we collaborated with knew that we are not just saying we’re supportive,” said Ellis. “We’re taking action.”

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