Domestic Partner Benefits Becoming Commonplace in Corporate America

It seems corporate America is more concerned about recruiting and retaining talented employees than it is about the lifestyle choices those employees make outside of work.

Charlotte Observer reported that more than 60 percent of the Fortune 100 companies are now offering health benefits to same-sex couples, even as national debate on the issue rages on.

According to a recent survey conducted by Robert Half Management, 1,400 CFOs, ranked "recruiting and retaining qualified staff" as the third top priority for success in 2005, just behind "growing revenue" and "controlling expenses," the Observer reported.

Duke Energy, a conservative utility based in the South, found that offering domestic partner benefits "has been shown to aid in both attracting and retaining employees," Duke Chairman and CEO Paul Anderson said in a news release last week.

The company, which employs more than 22,000 people internationally, is in hot competition to woo MBAs and other professionals, many of whom are seeking a corporate culture that embraces diversity, regardless of their sexual orientation, the Observer reported.

"There's a business need" for offering domestic-partner benefits, Steve Graybill, a Charlotte health-care consultant with Mercer Human Resource Consulting, told the Observer. "Duke didn't do it just to do it."

The trend is not new among Charlotte's larger banks, which have offered domestic partner benefits for years.

NationsBank, now Bank of America Corp., adopted the policy in 1998, the same year it acquired San Francisco-based BankAmerica. Wachovia Corp., formerly based in Winston-Salem, started offering domestic partner benefits in 2001, before its merger with Charlotte-based First Union that year. As of last week, Duke began offering so-called soft benefits such as bereavement leave, adoption assistance and relocation services to domestic partners. Medical and dental coverage will be offered Jan. 1, the Observer reported.

Despite the fact that offering benefits to domestic partners will increase Duke's annual benefits budget by up to 1.5 percent, the costs will not be passed on to employees, a Duke spokesman told the Observer.

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