5 Most controversial employee benefits

1.  Birth control 1. Birth control

What originally was seen as a small detail in President Obama’s health care reform law, determining how to provide birth control to women employed by the Catholic Church has ballooned into a polarizing sound-off among policymakers, religious leaders, and a bombastic radio host.

2.  Same-sex benefits 2. Same-sex benefits

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the government could not deny employee spousal benefits to the wife of a lesbian court employee, thereby finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Many private employers already provide benefits to same-sex couples and domestic partners, though they must make special considerations for tax purposes.

3.  Public pensions 3. Public pensions

Pension contracts with public employees and unions have suffered attacks from citizens and state-leaders in recent years due to the recession and government-budget concerns. Although many private-sector pensions already have closed benefits to new entrants, they continue to appear in the news, such as American Airlines’ attempt to terminate pensions for 130,000 workers.

4.  Health benefits for transgendered employees 4. Health benefits for transgendered employees

Still a taboo topic for some, employee benefits that focus on the health needs of transgendered workers are becoming more popular. In fact, one-third of major employers now offer transgendered employees coverage for gender-reassignment surgery.

5.  Limited medical plans 5. Limited medical plans

Despite restrictions on annual dollar limits of health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services has permitted some employers, such as McDonald’s, to obtain temporary waivers so they can continue to offer health plans with limited benefits (including so-called “mini-med” plans) until health insurance exchanges begin facilitating coverage in 2014.

Employers tread a thin line ensuring their benefits and program offerings are compliant with laws and regulations and respectful of a diverse population of employees. Sometimes, these debates go beyond water cooler chit-chat and enter the larger, mainstream discussion. EBN has compiled five employee benefits that have spurred caustic debate, both inside and outside the HR/benefits sphere. [Images: Thinkstock]

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