Employers are paying for abortion services, but what about physical and psychological safety?

While it is admirable that employers are paying for employees to travel to other states to access safe abortions, access to these benefits will likely rely on the employee's disclosure to HR or their manager. Caged Bird HR exists because employees don’t want to talk to their company HR about basic things like their experiences at work, discrimination, hostility in the workplace, or even their disability status. But we expect them to go to their HR rep or manager about one of the most private decisions a person can make?

Mind you, yesterday there were all kinds of coming out stories about abortions that were had years and even DECADES ago. For many, it was their first time telling anyone. This data is arguably the most sensitive data an employer can collect on an employee, especially for employees who live in states where it’s illegal to have an abortion. All it will take is one pro-life employee accessing this data and turning it over to state authorities. Then what?

It would be silly of us to think there aren’t pro-life employees at all levels of organizations. Especially considering HR is a white women dominated field. And statistically speaking, most white women voted for Trump.

Anyone who has worked in HR will tell you that employees snitching on other employees is as common as apple pie. Abuse of leave, working from a location other than the one in the system, stealing company time and money are all issues that employees report to HR. HR largely relies on other employees to bring these violations to light. It would not be surprising if other employees began whistleblowing on other employees, except instead of going to HR they would report to state and local authorities.

Here are some things businesses can do to keep the decision to access this benefit private:

  • Implement a technology solution that allows employees to privately indicate they need this benefit and request time off. Normal payroll systems won’t work because they normally automatically let the direct supervisor know when time off has been requested. Assuming this time off will not be deducted from the employee's vacation balance.

  • Add strict controls around who has access to this information. Restrict access heavily.

  • Implement policy for improper access to or use of this data. (Termination is the only answer.)

  • Implement controls for how long this data should be kept, or when it should be scrubbed for personal identifying information.

  • Update your expense reporting software to include a generic category employees can use to indicate that expenses were for travel for reproductive health reasons.

  • The approval routing for this kind of expense should bypass anyone who doesn’t have access to the data mentioned in bullets one and two. Including direct supervisors.

  • Or to bypass expense reporting altogether to avoid the need for supervisors to approve the expense, determine a set amount of money employees will receive and have payroll add that money to their next paycheck or issue a special paycheck. Once they indicate they need the benefit. Gross the payment up for taxes.

  • Train HR in the appropriate language to use when communicating an employee's absence to their immediate supervisor. The word “abortion” should not be used. Instead, HR should simply say, “the employee has requested leave that has been granted and they will return on x date”

  • Update the no retaliation policy to include language around requesting access to an abortion or using this benefit.

HR Departments cannot continue to pretend that all employees want to engage with them on sensitive matters such as abortion. They must face the fact that pro-life employees work for them at all levels. They must protect employees' privacy and provide a safe, private way to access this benefit. Their freedom and life depend on it.

Cierra Gross for Caged Bird HR

Caged Bird HR provides employees access to independent HR advice. For more information, visit our website at www.cagedbirdhr.com or contact us at support@cagedbirdhr.com.

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