Rights on Time 

FedEx extends employee benefits to domestic partners of gay employees.

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In 2007, Memphis-based FedEx was pulled from Diversity Inc.'s "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" list after the trade magazine learned the shipping giant didn't offer benefits to domestic partners of gay employees.

But FedEx could improve its ranking this year. Last week, the company announced that it would offer benefits to partners of gay employees beginning January 1, 2012.

"The employees were asking for this," said FedEx spokesperson Sandra Munoz.

Munoz said the details still are being worked out as to whether all employee benefits, such as bereavement leave or supplemental life insurance, will be included. But she said health benefits definitely will be extended to partners of employees in same-sex relationships. The company does not offer health benefits to domestic partners of straight employees.

FedEx also is ironing out how the benefit extension would work state-by-state, since a few states allow gay marriage and others do not.

"FedEx is located in all 50 states, so we can't just flip a switch and say, 'Here's the coverage,'" Munoz said. "There are details to be worked out to make sure we're in compliance with all the applicable laws out there."

Since employee benefits were trimmed back during the economic downturn, the company is waiting until 2012 to begin domestic-partner coverage. By then, Munoz said those benefits should be restored for everyone.

"Even though we've started to restore some of those benefits, we want to have an opportunity to restore even more," Munoz said. "We had to take away the matching 401(k), and there have been no raises or bonuses. We thought it would only be right to restore more of those benefits before a new benefit is added to the mix."

The benefits will be extended to FedEx's approximately 40,000 local employees and 225,000 employees nationwide. Gay employees in California already receive domestic partner benefits because it's required by state law. FedEx Office also offers domestic partner benefits, a holdover policy from when the company was owned by Kinko's.

"FedEx really had an issue of inequality in their own company since FedEx Office had the benefits. I think that caused an enormous amount of frustration on the part of other FedEx employees," said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Human Rights Campaign's workplace project.

Offering the benefits company-wide will help repair FedEx's image as it relates to diversity, Herrschaft said. FedEx does have a nondiscrimination policy in place protecting gay and transgender employees, but they still lack transgender diversity training.

"A majority of Fortune 500 companies have offered domestic partner benefits since 2006," Herrschaft said. "You certainly couldn't say FedEx is in the first tier and maybe not the second. But to be fair, there are still a lot of companies that do not offer benefits."

Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center volunteer Bob Loos worked at FedEx as an engineer from 1979 to 2003. He said the change will not only benefit gay couples but all gay employees of FedEx.

Said Loos: "This will allow gay employees to be who they are without feeling like they have to hide."

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