Roe v. Wade fallout: How tech giants and big banks are changing employee policies to adapt

From Apple to Tesla to Amazon to Citigroup, companies are altering their employee handbook. But there's a data privacy issue they need to consider.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Technology giants and the enterprise are making their thoughts known on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, with many pledging financial support to employees. 

The landmark Roe v. Wade case, guaranteeing a constitutional right to an abortion in the United States, was overturned on June 24. 

A number of states passed 'trigger' laws to ban or restrict the procedure as soon as Roe v. Wade was dissolved, although changes made by states including Louisiana, Texas, and Utah have been temporarily blocked by court judges. 

Protesters have taken to the streets. California, Oregon, and Washington have pledged to remain "safe havens" for those seeking a termination. 

The upheaval has not gone unnoticed by companies and organizations across the United States. Many firms have not released statements on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and instead have chosen to issue spokesperson-based statements on request. Here's how organizations are responding. 

Taking a stance

Amazon: The e-commerce giant has pledged to pay employees up to $4,000 in travel expenses for non-life-threatening medical treatments including abortion services. 

Apple: Members of staff can use their benefits to cover the costs associated with traveling outside of their home state for healthcare if required. Apple said, "We support our employees' rights to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health."

Atlassian: Financial support is on offer for US employees of the Australian software company.

Bank of America: Travel expense reimbursement now covers reproductive healthcare including abortions.

Canva: Canva, too, will provide help toward travel and accommodation costs to US employees seeking abortion services. 

Citigroup: Citigroup said: "We will continue to provide benefits that support our colleagues' family planning choices wherever we are legally permitted to do so."

Dick's Sporting Goods: On Twitter, Dick's Sporting Goods said that in response to the ruling, the company will provide up to $4,000 for employees living in restricted states to "travel to the nearest location where that care is legally available."

Disney: Disney said the company has "processes in place so that an employee who may be unable to access care in one location has affordable coverage for receiving similar levels of care in another location," including pregnancy-related decisions. "Disney will continue to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of our team members and their families," the firm said. 

Google: Google reminded employees in a memo that its "US benefits plan and health insurance covers out-of-state medical procedures that are not available where an employee lives and works," adding that employees "can also apply for relocation without justification, and those overseeing this process will be aware of the situation."

JPMorgan Chase & Co: In a June 1 memo, the financial giant said its healthcare plans would be expanded to include travel costs for legal abortions.

"Beginning in July, we will expand this benefit to include all covered services that can only be obtained far from your home, which would include legal abortion," the company said.

Lyft: Lyft will cover travel expenses and also intends to expand its legal defense commitment to protect drivers who might be sued for taking passengers to clinics. 

Meta: Meta, Facebook's parent company, will help over out-of-state travel costs for medical care, with the firm "assessing how best to do so given the legal complexities involved."

However, Meta engineer Ambroos Vaes claims that the firm has banned discussion of the situation internally. 

"Sheryl Sandberg posted on her Facebook account about what happened today, and even links to her post are removed, out of fear of offending the few employees who might actually agree with the insanity that is going on," the engineer says. 

Microsoft: The Redmond giant says it remains committed to supporting employees in accessing critical healthcare. Microsoft said this "includes our previously announced support for travel expense assistance for medical services covered in our US health plan, when care options, including abortion, are limited in an employee's home region."

Netflix: Netflix already provides an allowance for full-time US staff who need to travel to seek healthcare. 

Salesforce: Salesforce said it will continue to offer travel relocation benefits "to ensure employees and their families have access to critical health care services."

Starbucks: In May, Starbucks said in an open letter to staff that "no matter where you live, or what you believe, we will always ensure you have access to quality healthcare." 

"Starbucks healthcare plan a medical travel reimbursement benefit to access an abortion, and coming soon, access to gender-affirming care," the firm said. 

Tesla: Tesla will provide reimbursement for healthcare and abortion services if employees need to travel out of state. 

Wells Fargo: Travel benefits for medical reasons will be expanded "in accordance with applicable law."

Yelp: Following Texas' move to introduce trigger laws with strict abortion limits, Yelp said that employees could claim travel expenses for seeking abortion care out of state. 

Zendesk: Zendesk told us it has introduced a new policy in the US. The company will "provide travel expenses up to $3,000 annually for employees who need to travel for access to reproductive care, including abortion. This coverage will be provided through our Blue Shield medical insurance plan, which is available to employees."

The ramifications for businesses

 The ruling will have a ripple effect, not only when it comes to reproductive health and family planning, but also on where companies choose to base themselves and where their investments go. 

Let's take Texas for example. The state already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US, and while it attempted to enact a trigger ban, this has been temporarily suspended by the court. 

In March, Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup for offering to reimburse travel expenses to access the procedure out of state. 

Cain demanded that "they immediately terminate coverage of elective abortions performed in Texas in its employee-benefit plans," or face the prospect of new legislation to prevent organizations in the area from doing business with those that offer travel benefits for abortion-related care. 

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, told NBC News that it is only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits for the 'violation' of abortion bans at the state level by offering to cover abortion-related travel expenses. 

Other states may follow suit, and businesses may also take action themselves by changing settlement plans. 

Mayor of Kansas City Quinton Lucas said in June that he knew of "a business that has declined to come to Kansas City, Missouri because of the eager action of our state leaders to restrict the rights of women and families." The Kansas City Council is set to vote on a resolution for city employees to receive a stipend for out-of-state abortion services. 

There's also a profit angle to consider. Businesses that choose to offer travel expense reimbursement for family planning and abortion-related healthcare may be able to write off the additional cost as a business expense. 

However, US Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, has introduced a bill to "prohibit employers from deducting expenses related to their employees' abortion travel costs or so-called "gender-affirming care" for young children of their employees."

Furthermore, you must consider the workforce itself. Individuals may be unwilling to move or work in states that have chosen to restrict the right to abortion, and this could impact the talent an organization is able to hire or retain. 

Supporting employees

The overturning of Roe v. Wade is a sensitive topic and one that will impact the provision of healthcare in the United States for individuals who have become pregnant, consensually or otherwise, potentially for decades to come. 

With this in mind, executives must tread carefully, no matter their personal views on the topic. 

While many companies have pledged to assist with health-related travel expenses, considering the extreme sensitivity of the topic, employees forced to give detailed reasons for their travel out-of-state may not take up the offer of financial help. 

They may also be concerned that information gathered by employers on their decision could be used against them in prosecutions following a subpoena or data request by law enforcement.

Employers should examine disclosure policies and consider loosening rules on how much employees need to reveal concerning their healthcare.

It's somewhat dystopian for companies to have any say or control in healthcare in 2022. However, this has become the reality in the US and it is up to employers to shoulder their responsibility carefully and respectfully. 

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