Walmart's Partner Benefits Decision Puts Pressure On Other Retailers

Walmart's (NYSE:WMT) announcement that next year it will extend health-care benefits to workers' domestic partners adds pressure on other resistant companies to follow suit, according to Bloomberg.

The world's largest retailer—and the largest private employer in the U.S.—described the change on Tuesday (Aug. 27) mainly as a path to a consistent policy as some states alter the legal definition of marriage. Currently, Walmart offers health-care coverage only to an employee's spouse of a different sex. The change comes in advance of the retailer's annual health-care enrollment period, which starts in October.

The chain defines domestic partners as legal spouses, not legally separated; or a domestic partner of same or opposite gender in an ongoing, exclusive relationship similar to marriage for at least 12 months with the intention to continue sharing a household indefinitely, a Walmart spokesman told Reuters.

While Walmart says its move isn't a statement about same-sex partner benefits, since opposite-sex partners also qualify, the switch after years of opposition may help tip the balance at some other companies. "You can go to your board, and all of a sudden you're not swimming against the stream as much as you were yesterday," said Wallace Hopp, an associate dean at the University of Michigan's business school. "You can say, 'Jeez, Walmart does it.'"

The change also comes at a time when some retailers and restaurants are cutting health-care benefits by reducing hours for some employees, in an effort to avoid health insurance mandates under the federal Affordable Care Act.

For more:

- See this Bloomberg story
- See this Reuters story

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