Inclusive policies to support families in the workplace

June 25, 2024

For plan members, sponsors and administrators

This article explores research and insights from Pride at Work Canada on the diversity of family structures and the effect workplace practices and culture can have on the health of 2SLGBTQIA+ families. We then provide actionable recommendations for workplace policies, procedures, and employee services to help organizations support 2SLGBTQIA+ family health.

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In Canada, where marriage equality has been protected since 2005,1 family structures have become significantly more diverse driven in part by social and cultural changes.2

Pride at Work Canada’s Lead with Pride study, published in 2023, recommends employers ensure employee benefits have “an expanded definition of family and partner” and cover adoption, surrogacy, and fertility treatment.

In the same study, queer and trans leaders reported that the absence of relevant benefits inclusive of families and partners have caused them to leave or avoid certain employers—actively seeking out organizations that provide these supports.3

"Workplace policies often fail to recognize the diversity of family structures,” says Jade Pichette (they/them) of Pride at Work Canada. “For 2SLGBTQIA+ people this often means that our families can fall outside of the benefits, which fundamentally means that we have an inequity in compensation. This tells us that we are not welcome at a company and has an impact on retention.”

Inclusive policies, practices, and benefits aren’t only an issue for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees. It’s also a concern for employees with family members in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, a consideration that will continue to grow as future generations enter the workforce.4,5

Recommendations to support 2SLGBTQIA+ family health

The following recommendations were developed by Manulife in collaboration with Pride at Work Canada and Cleveland Clinic Canada. These recommendations can help your organization support a range of different family structures.

1. Inclusive policies and practices

Offer inclusive policies and practices that cater to diverse family structures. 

Workplace policies that use restrictive language may inadvertently exclude some family needs, such as bereavement leave for significant relationships outside of a list of eligible legal and biological family relationships.   

Pride at Work Canada suggests that inclusive bereavement and parental leave policies will use gender-neutral language and ideally remove the list of eligible family members. This allows employees to define the relationships that are significant to them. If that’s not possible, consider extending the definition to include close friends, chosen family and other relationships that are significant and important to your employees.

While it might not be possible to change some legal, contractual, or legislative language in the short-term, recognizing these challenges and providing help through workplace programs and policies can make a real difference in your employees’ lives. Beyond modernizing your organization’s family leave or bereavement leave policies, this can include providing adequate mental health coverage to meet the unique needs of different family arrangements, and other accommodations that will support your employees during difficult times.

2. Family growth services

Some employees might need access to services or treatments to start and grow a family, including through adoption or surrogacy. By providing coverage for a suite of family growth services through your group benefits plan, you can support these employees in a way that is profoundly meaningful and lasting.

To help ensure your family growth services are inclusive, check your policies to include language that offers adequate leave to all parents, regardless of gender identity.

3. Flexible work policies

Provide flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options, flexible hours, bereavement, and parental leave to accommodate the needs of employees in all family situations. It's important for employees to feel they can use this flexibility without any bias or negative impact on their careers.

4. Safety and protection 

Implement policies and practices that align with provincial and federal human rights law1 to protect employees from discrimination based on their family status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as part of your efforts to build an inclusive workplace culture.

5. Training and awareness: 

Make training and resources available to managers and employees. 

It’s especially important that managers and human resources representatives are well versed in how to fairly apply company benefits and policies for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees.

Offer employee sessions on diversity, equity, and inclusion that include examples and information relevant to 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion to help foster understanding and mutual respect and support between colleagues.

6. Sponsor employee resource groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) give employees with diverse family structures a supportive community in which to share and support each other. ERGs help ensure that all voices are respected, encouraged, and heard across an organization. If your organization has Parent/Family ERGs, encourage those groups to engage with the 2SLGBTQIA+ ERG and partner on joint-initiatives and events.

7. Make employee events inclusive

Instead of inviting spouses or significant others, consider allowing a plus one (or two) at employee events, and consider the possibility of offering childcare if the events are outside working hours.     

8. Communicate inclusive policies

Ensure that inclusive family policies are communicated to all employees throughout their employment, from job postings to onboarding to annual reminders. This can help keep employees aware of relevant benefits and ensure that the company investment in these benefits is recognized and has a desired effect on employee well-being, engagement, and retention. 

By embracing these considerations, employers can create a workplace that values and supports all employees and their families, rather than unintentionally penalizing or alienating groups within your employee population. Ultimately, these efforts can lead to a more engaged and satisfied workforce by fostering a culture of understanding and acceptance, reducing uneven barriers to accessing supports and benefits, and creating a more inclusive workplace for all.

If you have Manulife Group Benefits extended health care coverage …

Your organization has the option to include coverage for adoption, and surrogacy and donor benefits for your employees.

Adoption benefits include support for domestic or international adoption expenses, including: 

  • agency fees
  • legal fees
  • travel and accommodation expenses
  • immigration expenses
  • translation fees

Learn more about adoption coverage.

Surrogacy and donor benefits include: 

  • Medical services and drugs for the donor or gestational carrier
  • Counselling services
  • Medical equipment for the gestational carrier
  • Travel and accommodation expenses
  • Legal fees
  • Prenatal classes
  • Maternity clothing
  • Health, life, disability, and travel insurance for the donor or gestational carrier

Learn more about surrogacy and donor coverage.  

Cultivating 2SLGBTQIA+ health in the workplace

The stories in this special report encourage you to consider how your employee benefits programs and company policies can support staff members from all backgrounds, genders, and identities.

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