Walmart extends domestic-partner benefits to gay workers

WiG and AP reports

The nation’s largest employer is extending its health care benefits to its workers’ domestic partners – including those of the same sex.

Walmart, which has long been a target of attacks by labor groups for its low skimpy wages and benefits, as well as other shoddy business practices, says the changes were made so it could have one uniform policy for all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of what constitutes domestic partnerships and civil unions. Almost two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies already offer domestic partner benefits.

Walmart defines domestic partners as spouses of the same or opposite gender, and unmarried partners who are not legally separated who have lived together for at least 12 months, are not married to anyone else, are in an exclusive relationship, and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, a spokesman says.

The move follows June’s Supreme decision overturning the 1996 federal law DOMA, which denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The gay blog Towleroad broke the news about Walmart yesterday after obtaining a leaked internal memo that Walmart’s senior vice president of benefits Sally Welborn sent to retail management. The memo read:

“It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets.

“The Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “ObamaCare”) inextricably linked health insurance with employment. As such, for our associates for whom we offer health insurance, we want to be sure we are providing access to as many individuals and their families as possible.

“Given the diverse world we live in today, a comprehensive benefit package that includes domestic partner benefits appeals to the contemporary workforce. Many companies, including most of our competitors, already offer spouse/partner benefits to their employees. Of 30 retail competitors, all but two (Publix and Stop and Shop union plan) provide either same- or opposite-sex domestic partner coverage.

“Your behavior matters. The words you use also matter. We are counting on you to be thoughtful, supportive and understanding of multiple viewpoints. Your visibility can make a big difference to how associates feel.”