Most HR leaders mum on Roe v. Wade despite workplace angst

HR and other company leaders recognize that the uncertainty over Roe v. Wade’s future is causing angst and divisiveness in the workplace, yet the majority of them are not addressing the issue—at least not yet.

The latest: The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. What employers should do now

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That’s among the results from a pair of new surveys out this week, which find that the majority of HR leaders are not speaking out about the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Last month, a leaked draft Supreme Court ruling indicated that Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned. A decision is expected by early July. The decision would have wide-reaching implications: Twenty-six states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the high court strikes down Roe v. Wade, meaning many would have to travel to get the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that studies sexual and reproductive health and rights. Meanwhile, employee benefits and healthcare coverage would be affected if the landmark legislation is overturned.

According to a survey of 366 human resources and other talent leaders about Roe v. Wade from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), half of HR leaders (51%) say that their organizations have not made a statement about their position on Roe v. Wade and that they have no plans to do so. Another 15% said their organizations have not yet made a statement about their position on Roe v. Wade, but they plan to do so once, and if, a ruling is announced.

Similarly, data from consulting firm Gartner, which surveyed about 350 HR executives, found just 8% of HR leaders and executives feel either significantly or somewhat compelled to respond to speculations of SCOTUS planning to overturn Roe v. Wade. More than half (51%) are not sure about responding to such speculations, and a larger majority (60%) indicate they would not be offering any new benefits to support employees’ reproductive rights, Gartner finds.

HR leaders, though, are acknowledging the effect it is having on its workforce: 31% told i4cp it is creating divisiveness among employees and 14% said it is hindering their productivity.

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Most HR leaders are having a hard time deciding the best course of action on Roe v. Wade news, especially as they continue to navigate a plethora of other issues including the ongoing pandemic, says Lorrie Lykins, i4cp’s vice president of research.

“The Roe v. Wade issue is hitting human resource professionals particularly hard, especially in view of the timing—they are barely emerging from the continuous crisis mode of the past two years, and this issue is just so complex and difficult,” she says. “There are no right answers or decisions. HR executives are telling us they’re simply exhausted mentally and emotionally drained—understandably so.”



Still, some major employers have spoken out about the issue over the past several weeks, announcing plans to add benefits in light of any upcoming changes.

Amid reports of the leak last month, several employers including Amazon, Levi Strauss & Co. and Yelp quickly announced that they will expand their benefits programs to reimburse employees for travel costs related to seeking medical care that is not available near the employee’s home.

“As the pandemic has shown so clearly, public health issues are workplace issues. Business leaders are responsible for protecting the health and wellbeing of our employees, and that includes protecting reproductive rights and abortion access,” Levi Strauss said in a statement in May, adding that women make up 58% of the company’s global workforce of about 15,000 and that a number of those employees “expressed to leadership their growing alarm over the rollback of all forms of reproductive care” in recent years.

Though abortion rights is a hot-button issue, some organizations are deciding to take a stance at a time when healthcare and women’s rights are in the spotlight, and when employees are prioritizing purpose and action from their employers. “As the workforce becomes more employee-focused, the new trend will continue to challenge more companies as they need talent as well as retention. Workers are no longer being quiet on these issues,” says Stacie Haller, career expert at ResumeBuilder.com.

To that point, the i4cp research found some positives to the topic being a workplace issue:  53% of HR leaders say the Roe v. Wade news is creating an opportunity for open discussion about this topic, and 27% say it is prompting them to be more open in general about discussing issues that may have been taboo before.

Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.

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