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Companies scramble to figure out abortion travel benefit, privacy protections

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The exterior of a Planned Parenthood office, with blue sign that reads "Now Open"

To protect privacy while covering travel costs for accessing abortion services, companies should make it clear that employees can take time off without giving a reason, some experts say. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

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A growing number of companies are providing a new benefit in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade: covering expenses for travel to access abortion care for employees in states with restrictions. But the details of how such programs will be administered are still being worked out.

The human resources department at Lattice — a performance management platform — has been working around the clock to figure out the best approach.

“This is yet another thing on the plate of HR folks who have had to help navigate through a pandemic,” said Chief People Officer Cara Brennan Allamano. “In this particular situation, things are changing daily, and it’s not easy stuff.”

Most important, Allamano said, is addressing privacy concerns. Workers shouldn’t have to ask their managers or provide any personal information directly to the company to use the benefit. Allamano said organizations could offer it through a health insurance plan, but coverage can vary and it would require filing for reimbursement.

“We want it to be a situation where people have the cash in hand because timing is such an important issue,” she said.

Lattice plans to offer a medical travel stipend — available for any health care need — through a supplemental third-party provider. These providers often cover services like fertility treatment or gender-affirming care, and they sometimes act as advocates to connect workers with health resources.

Owen Tripp is the co-founder and CEO of Included Health, which works in this way with more than 250 employer clients.

“They can rely on us to deliver highly trusted, clinical, safe and ultimately private service,” he said.

Employers foot the bill, but that’s about it, he said. “While they can see the total numbers of people utilizing services within a population, they do not see the details, the names, the demographics of those people.”

Generally such programs are available only to full-time regular employees. 

Match Group, the dating app company based in Texas, has been providing travel benefits even for part-time or contract workers who don’t qualify for the company’s health insurance through a partnership with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

“We have a dedicated toll-free number they could call,” said Chief Communications Officer Justine Sacco. “Planned Parenthood would verify their employment status and then they would book their travel, their hotel, whatever medical procedures were necessary.”

Setting up a secure system to offer benefits is one thing, but actually making employees feel comfortable using them is another.

“One of the things that we’d really recommend companies doing is working with ethics professors at a local college or university, to have them put a stamp of approval on what you’re doing,” said Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner. 

He said companies also need to foster a culture — starting with management — that makes it clear that taking time off without giving a reason is OK.

Otherwise, “those employees either have to lie to their manager or share this private moment,” Kropp said.

And the less employers know about how employees use such benefits, the better, said employment attorney Krista Mitzel. That’s because accessing these services, even out of state, could be a crime in some places.

“The more neutral and mainstream the policies are, where they could be argued that this stipend covered any procedure, it wasn’t meant to be abortion,” she said.

“Those will be defenses that the company will set forth about why they did or did not violate the law,” said Mitzel, who expects some companies to actively want to challenge these state laws.

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