More than 200,000 employees at FedEx will be able to obtain same-sex domestic partner benefits beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

While the company has yet to hammer out many of the details, it has announced the expansion of its benefits program nonetheless. The Memphis-based shipper had been coming under pressure from GLBT and allied employees to expand its health-benefits package during an annual review process, which the company says are coming about due to improved revenues.

“Several of our employees have been asking for the benefit and, because we knew the economy has improved, we're able to expand our benefits," said Sandra Munoz, a company spokesperson.

The lack of same-sex domestic-partner/spousal benefits landed the company in the news in 2007, when FedEx was pulled from The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list for not offering same-sex domestic-partner benefits to everyone on its payroll. Then, in early 2009, when Fortune published its 100 Best Companies to Work For list that incorrectly stated the company offered same-sex domestic-partner benefits to all, the issue cropped up again.
In both cases, the publications misunderstood FedEx's policy on domestic-partner/spousal health benefits because the company only offered them where it was legally required to (in California) and to employees in its FedEx Office division (formerly FedEx Kinko’s). Those employees received same-sex domestic-partner health benefits before FedEx purchased Kinko’s in 2004.

Once DiversityInc discovered the error, FedEx was cut from the list. To qualify for the DiversityInc Top 50, all companies must offer same-sex domestic-partner/spousal health benefits.

But in the case of Fortune's 2009 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the publisher did not change its list after being informed of the error by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

According to the annual Corporate Equality Index published by the HRC, companies that offer same-sex domestic partner benefits experience a total financial impact of less than 1 percent of total benefits cost. With much to gain and little to lose, inclusive workplace policies are the trend.

Ninety-four percent of the companies rated in the 2010 CEI provide domestic-partner health coverage. Of these, 70 percent offer domestic-partner benefits to same- and different-sex employees, a three-percentage point increase from the previous year.

In 2003, less than half of the Fortune 500 (40 percent) offered same-sex domestic-partner benefits. Five years later that number jumped to 58 percent with more than eight out of 10 (83 percent) of the Fortune 100 offering same-sex domestic-partner benefits.

Twenty-two states, the District of Columbia and more than 150 local governments make health benefits available to public employees and their same-sex partners, according to HRC.

FedEx earned a score of 70 on the 2010 CEI, losing points for not having same-sex domestic-partner health benefits, among other criteria. Its competitor, UPS, scored 100. So making these benefits available at FedEx 18 months from now—while “certainly seems a little bit longer than it needs to be," said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the HRC Workplace Project and editor of the CEI—is "still good news. It's never too late … It's a giant step forward, and I hope it signals a turn toward addressing equality in their workplace.”

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