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I work at a community college in California. About a decade ago, my union negotiated for the district to pay 100% of all healthcare premiums for single employees, and a fixed dollar amount towards the healthcare of all employees who chose to add their spouses/children/families to the insurance plan. The benefit package has not been renegotiated since. In the intervening years, because the employer is required to pay 100% of all healthcare premiums for employees in the 'Single' group, the benefits the employer pays to those in this group have grown to be greater than the benefits paid to employees in any of the 'Family' groups.

To be clear, any employee in the 'Family' group can move to the 'Single' group. But, of course, this would mean their families wouldn't be covered by insurance from the employer, which is less than desirable.

Is this in any way legally prohibited behavior?

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    Why hasn't your union renegotiated the terms to deal with this? Why have you not raised it at a union meeting? Why do you suppose that this should or could be illegal in the first place? Ten years is a ludicrous time to have the same compensation deal. – Nij Mar 8 '18 at 5:23
  • I've only just found out about it (the benefit contribution each employee gets is somewhat opaque), but it has been a subject of intense discussion among our employees in recent weeks. Most employees happen to belong to the 'Single' group. There is no immediate benefit to them to renegotiate benefit contributions for families; they choose instead to negotiate for universal raises. Why do I suppose this is illegal? Well, I didn't really. It has a hint of discrimination against married people or people with families, though, so I thought it was worth asking. – Relativity Mar 8 '18 at 18:50
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and a fixed dollar amount towards the healthcare of all employees who chose to add their spouses/children/families to the insurance plan.

and

any employee in the 'Family' group can move to the 'Single' group

Emphasis mine1.

I guess you are asking about the lines of discrimination. First of all, it would be needed to find out if marital/familiar status is a protected characteristic (like race, religion or sex); discrimination is legal if it is not related to a protected characteristic. For example, it would not be illegal for your employer to provide a bonus to people who likes to collect stamps.

The discrimination laws in California define:

“protected characteristics” mean: “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation”.

So yes, discrimination against married people would be illegal and could be challenged.

Now, is it discrimination? From the same page, the more related aspect is:

“Disparate impact” involves employer policies that have a disproportionate adverse effect on a protected characteristic group, e.g., a company policy of counting all absences and leaves against seniority that has a disproportionate adverse impact on women who have to take time off for pregnancy.

Now, about the issue of disparate adverse effect; yes it is more expensive if you have family that if you don't2, but:

  • It is your decision. You can have the exact same benefits that any single employee (individual coverage), regardless of your personal situation. Yes, your family would be without coverage but that is not your employer's responsability.

  • In general it is not the employer's obligation to pay to you in relation with your living costs. The mere fact that your personal circunstances mean that your living costs are higher than someone else's is not a reason to legally challenge the agreement3.

  • The cost of the benefit for single plans is not relevant. The fact that the cost of single plans has risen is not making your situation any worse (you are not getting reimbursed less money of the family plan than agreed). Of course, you are worse off because (probably) family plans are more expensive too, but the issue here is that the agreement did not provide any clause to recalculate the reimbursement by the employer.


1 To be fair, it is clear that you understand the issue, but just pointing it for future readers.

2 As a rule of thumb, almost everything is.

3 Of course, some of these individual circunstances might be covered by specific laws and agreements like the healthcare coverage here. But once those obligations are met then there is no further obligation.

  • Thanks for your answer. I thought it probably wasn't legally prohibited discrimination, but it's good to have confirmation. – Relativity Mar 8 '18 at 18:53

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