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Creating an equitable space in the workplace

Tata Steel replaced the term ‘spouse’ with ‘partner’. Partners will now be eligible for medical benefits, insurance coverage, honeymoon package, child-care leave, newborn parent leave, transfer and relocation expenses, domestic travel coverage for new hires, among a host of other benefits permissible under the legal statutes.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 07, 2019, 07.04 AM IST
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Tata Steel extends medical cover, HR benefits to LGBTQ partners.
MUMBAI: Tata Steel will extend medical cover and other human resource benefits to the partners of LGBTQ employees. The 100-year-old company has replaced ‘spouse’ in all forms and official documents with ‘partner’ to effect the change.

Partners will now be eligible for medical benefits, insurance coverage, honeymoon package, child-care leave, newborn parent leave, transfer and relocation expenses, domestic travel coverage for new hires, invitations to conferences and events, inclusion in the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), temporary transfer policy, among a host of other benefits permissible under the legal statutes. The company will also bear expenses for gender reassignment surgery.

“The idea behind this policy change is to bring everyone at par and create a more equitable space for everybody,” said Atrayee S Sanyal, chief diversity officer and head of HR at Tata Steel. The company is also responding to the concerns of those it’s looking to hire. “When we visit the campuses the youngsters want to know what are the inclusive policies,” she said. While several overseas and some Indian companies have been propagating the business case for having a more diverse workplace, Tata Steel will be one of the first in the country to offer such extensive benefits across all categories to LGBTQ partners.

“When one of the largest global private steel makers, Tata Steel announces extending coverage of policies like child care and parental leave policies to all employees to also refer to same-sex couples, the message on inclusion is loud and clear,” said Saundarya Rajesh, founder-director of the AVTAR Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.

Such shifts play a key role in helping to mainstream alternative choices.

“While homosexuality in India was decriminalised almost a year ago, as a society we are far from reaching a wholesome acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ relationships,” she said. “Policy changes at the corporate level will help reset the ‘normal’ and pave the way for a more inclusive future.”

Tata Steel launched an employee resource group called Wings under the company’s diversity and inclusion platform Mosaic last year. This was aimed at creating a safe environment for people to declare their identity through extensive sensitisation initiatives covering all employees. That’s prepared the ground for the latest step of extending policies to all, said Sanyal. Tata Steel has nearly 33,000 people on its rolls.

“The Tatas can manage to introduce such progressive policies--despite being a large organisation with people from various age groups including white-collar and blue-collar employees and people working in remote areas--because the group has always had a progressive mindset and approach towards its population,” said Anshul Prakash, partner, Khaitan & Co. and a specialist in employment and labour law.

The company has asked its medical insurance partners to make the necessary changes. “However, till the time the insurance company agrees we (Tata Steel) will bear all such costs,” Sanyal said.

The company has also started an initiative for the skill development of transgender persons through its vendors.

Experts said an inclusive workplace is becoming critical in attracting talent, even for straight people.

“People are becoming more aware. Entire perspective about relationship has undergone a sea change. Even families are recognising different sexual orientations,” said Prakash. Companies are looking at making the workplace more inclusive, especially after the Supreme Court verdict striking down Section 377, which criminalised homosexuality, he said. Insurance companies, especially the state-owned ones, need to evolve with the times in the way they look at relationships, Prakash said.

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