Friday, January 29, 2010
Inside Higher Ed, 'Grossing Up': Equity or Bias?:
Update: Tony Infanti (Pittsburgh), “Grossing Up” Domestic Partner Benefits
Syracuse University may be on the cutting edge of promoting equity for its gay and lesbian employees. Some of the university's straight employees, however, say Syracuse needs to focus its limited funds on benefits for everyone -- and recognize that it can't be held responsible for the inequity of marriage laws in the United States.
The battle is over "grossing up" -- a human resources term for paying someone on top of salary levels so that the employee takes home the full salary amount. So if someone would owe $10,000 on a $50,000 salary, grossing up would mean paying that person $60,000 (plus whatever tax is needed on the extra $10,000 and so forth) so that $50,000 becomes take-home pay.
Syracuse plans to pay $1,000 each to its gay and lesbian employees who use the university's domestic partner program to provide health insurance for their partners. While health insurance benefits for employees and their spouses and children are not taxable under federal law, health insurance that an employee receives for a partner who is not a spouse recognized under state law is taxable. So even though Syracuse has tried to be equitable by offering partner benefits, the university's gay employees have pointed out that they were not really being treated the same way as married opposite-sex couples. ...
If Syracuse goes ahead with its plans, it may be the first college to offer such a benefit. The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources could not identify any colleges with this benefit. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization that encourages grossing up policies for partner benefits, has identified only three businesses and one family foundation with such policies.
Pat Cihon, an associate professor of law and public policy and president of the Syracuse chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has spoken out against the new benefit. Cihon said that he applauds the chancellor's commitment to inclusiveness and agrees that current marriage and tax law discriminate against gay people. He also said that he supports offering domestic partner benefits and believes that most of his colleagues share that belief. But he said that the problem that needs addressing is the law, not the university's benefits. "We really ought to be lobbying to change the tax laws," he said.
What troubles him, he said, is that the planned $1,000 payments are effectively only available to one class of people -- gay employees with partners on benefits -- and could never be available to employees married to or in domestic partnerships with people of the opposite sex.
"I appreciate and understand the rationale and intent, but now the employer is treating different people differently, and they are giving additional compensation to some groups because of sexual orientation," said Cihon.