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Abortion rights demonstrators cheer at a 'Defend Roe vs Wade' rally in Boston, Massachusetts Sophie Park/Bloomberg
Abortion rights demonstrators cheer at a 'Defend Roe vs Wade' rally in Boston, Massachusetts Sophie Park/Bloomberg

As companies from JPMorgan Chase & Co and Starbucks pledge to fund employees’ abortion-related travel costs, human resource professionals scrambling to nail down the details are finding that less paper trail is better. 

While documenting corporate processes is a key function of most HR teams, applying it to abortion benefits could expose companies to legal liability and privacy violation concerns. One potential consequence is that firms are forced by legal action to disclose details of employees who have sought these services, according to Amy Spurling, CEO of Compt, a platform for stipend perks. 

“There can’t be a lot of digital footprint on this,” Spurling said. “The companies that are publicly supporting this are going to be first on the legal target list. They’ve got to be really careful — it’s walking a line.”

The question of support for abortion seekers while defraying legal liability is becoming ever pertinent in the post-Roe landscape, with investors amping up the pressure on companies to provide more specifics. For those in HR, the burden is achieving a balance between carrying out corporations’ pledges to keep supporting employees’ reproductive rights while minimising the risk of them running afoul of the law. 

Third-party stipend platforms offer employers one workaround. Typically used for broad categories such as home office spending or wellness perks, some platforms also include healthcare. A medical travel benefit programme by Level, for example, allows employees to pay for healthcare travel expenses directly using a card, without having to provide medical details, submit receipts or receive reimbursement, nor engage directly with their HR department. 

“It’s as simple as an employer wanting to give people $4,000 to spend on medical travel,” said Lenke Taylor, chief people officer at Level. “The employer doesn’t need to know where the employee is going or why or what treatment they received.”

Professional community TroopHR, which hosts online member forums for HR executives from companies including Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and Amazon.com, received more than a dozen queries about Level’s platform after it was mentioned on a discussion board on June 27, according to founder Tracy Avin.

Fraud inevitable

“HR people are talking among themselves about ways to tuck this into programmes that already exist,” Avin said. “They want to take swift action.”

Of course, less control and documentation means that some degree of fraud is inevitable. Yet the benefits far outweigh the consequences for HR departments because these platforms are run by external companies that navigate compliance matters while insulating companies from potential documentation.

“Employers and health plans can work with their third party administrator and say, ‘Listen, I need you to manage all of this,” says Elaine Davis, chief human resources officer of health benefits administrator HealthComp. “It’s like white-glove service.”

Employers have many services to consider. Among them are Carrot, a benefit facilitator that specialises in fertility treatments, and Maven Clinic, a women’s health company, which has already announced its support for access to pregnancy termination. Davis also expects to see confidential-care lines — much like whistle-blower lines — and co-ordination centres to soon crop up and provide third-party services to companies. 

Inserting these benefits into broader programmes also offers companies some degree of protection from potential legal challenges because, unlike a dedicated fund for costs around abortion, they can be applied to a broad spectrum of benefits — abortion-related travel being just one of many. 

“The broader coverage is, the harder it is for a state to sue you and find out exactly what the employees are using it for,” Compt’s Spurling said. 

Such support is also crucial to attracting and retaining talent. A total 67% of millennials say that travel support for abortion is important or essential, according to an early June survey by HR analytics firm Veris Insights.

In addition, companies are incentivised culturally and financially to support these programmes given the cost of pregnancy to employers, said Michael Roloson, director of HR and benefits consulting firm PEO Focus.

“For a company to put in place a programme that can ease access to an abortion, they will actually put the resources into it,” Roloson said. “Ultimately, it costs them a lot less to do so.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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