When I first started working for Corporate Banking USA, I was delighted that I could add Miss Chef to my health insurance benefits. Only the large, corporate restaurants offer benefits to all their employees, and paying for one's own insurance is well beyond the reach of most hourly-wage workers. So you can imagine how relieved I was to find a corporate culture that could extend protection to my sweetie in her job working with fire and knives!
It wasn't until after we'd gone through all the selection and registration processes that I started noticing some odd deductions on my paycheck. Lo and behold, it was one of those hidden costs of our inability to be legally married. The cost of her benefits--both the amount the company contributes and my contributions--are considered taxable income. So the company has to re-gross my income by that amount and take taxes out.
It has been nearly 7 years (between two different companies) that I have been carrying this little burden in my paycheck. After my initial resentment and irritation, I eventually just had to accept the situation, and finally pretty much forgot about it. I still appreciated knowing that I had some protection within the company from being treated unfairly because I fell in love with the wrong kind of person.
Last week at home I received in the mail a rather plain envelope from my employer. Inside was a simple, one-page letter regarding the health benefits I was able to extend to my domestic partner. (I love the fact that they don't distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex partners.) The letter re-iterated the Company's commitment to diversity and inclusion, blah blah blah, and re-stated the situation with the tax penalties I am subjected to.
Then there was this part: "The payment described below will help offset the additional federal and state taxes you incur as a result of these regulations."
Yes--the big, faceless Corporation is paying extra money to ensure I am treated with equality. Not only are they granting me extra payments to offset the taxes I already pay, but they are bumping them up by enough to cover the taxes on the extra money itself! In addition, my July month-end paycheck would include a lump-sum payment to cover those extra costs through the first half of 2012.
I have to tell you, I grew emotional when I read that letter. Even in explaining it here, I'm getting a little choked up. They didn't have to do this. There was no general outcry within the company or among its customers, clients or shareholders. One short paragraph indicates this was a result of feedback on an annual PRIDE Global survey and various diversity and HR organizations within the company. I know the Company's not going to do anything that impinges on their bottom line; I know there's got to be something in it for the Company...but the fact that they were open to the idea, and went through all the calculations and paperwork to make it happen, is a little flabbergasting.
Still, when I went online at work today to check my month-end paycheck, I was not prepared for what was in there. The monthly addition to my pay is not chump change. But the retroactive amount for the past six months was over $1400.
Yeah, that's a nice little stocking stuffer, isn't it? But I'm not sharing the amount with you because I'm excited about it. I want you to think about what it represents. That's $2800 a year of financial penalty because my co-citizens refuse to recognize my and Miss Chef's relationship as legally valid (not morally or religiously, just legally). Over the past 7 years, I have lost over $19,000 by extending to Miss Chef the same benefits that my coworkers extend to their spouses without that price tag. The same that you might use to cover your own husband or wife. The loss would be even greater if we had children. Imagine if I'd been able to divert that much into my 401(k)? How much more secure would my retirement be with those extra funds?
And that's just one hidden cost that we bear. One hidden cost that we weren't really aware of. How many more are we carrying? I am fortunate that my employer is extending protections to me that my government is not willing to. My government, that I'm supporting.
You know what's even more shocking? My employer is one of the big-name, international Wall Street banks that we all love to hate. Yeah, even Big Banking recognizes the right thing. When will the rest of our population?