Helping hand | Amazon funds staff travel for abortions & drug abuse help - should you follow?

Amazon funds staff travel for abortions & drug abuse help - should you follow?

Amazon will reimburse staff in the US who travel for a wide range of non-life threatening medical treatments, including elective abortions.

The firm told its staff on Monday it will pay up to £3,195 ($4,000) in travel expenses annually for non-life threatening medical treatments including abortions, according to a message seen by Reuters news agency.

The decision makes the online retailer the latest company after huge firms such as Citigroup and Yelp, to help employees bypass Republican-backed state laws curbing abortion access. It shows how companies are eager to retain and attract talent in locations that remain important to their operations despite legal changes impacting employees' health.

The U.S. Supreme Court is due to rule by the end of June in a case that gives its conservative majority a chance to roll back abortion rights or even overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalised the procedure nationwide. About two dozen states including Oklahoma and Alabama have laws poised to limit abortion access should the Roe ruling be overturned.

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Amazon's new benefit, effective to Jan. 1 retroactively, applies if an operation is not available within 100 miles (161 km) of an employee's home and virtual care is not possible, the company's message said.

The reimbursements announced by Amazon are not specific to abortion, however. They provide for other non-life threatening treatments such as cardiology, cellular gene therapies and substance-abuse disorder services as well. A report in the BBC also indicated that mental health treatments were also included. Separately, Amazon offers up to £7,985 ($10,000) in annual travel reimbursements for life-threatening issues.

Pregnancy-related support in the UK

While the controversial laws only affect workers in America, Amazon’s move is in a similar vein to the support being offered to UK workers for sensitive issues such as miscarriages.

HR Grapevine has previously reported on how other businesses have rolled out policies to support their staff members.

In 2021, clothing brand ASOS introduced a raft of HR policies that included paid leave for staff who have experienced a pregnancy loss or are undergoing fertility treatment, as well as flexible options for those going through the menopause.

Also last year, LADbible Group introduced a new initiative called ‘LADfamily’ which comprised of a suite of ‘family-friendly’ policies aimed at supporting its global workforce.

Channel 4 previously unveiled a dedicated Pregnancy Loss Policy. This was designed to support staff through pregnancy loss – which includes, but is not limited to, miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion.

And the cereal giant Kellogg’s has also introduced support for staff experiencing the pregnancy loss and fertility treatment.

The measures announced by the Manchester-headquartered firm include paid leave for fertility treatment and pregnancy loss, including for partners and those using a surrogate mother.

Support for substance misuse

While there is a heavy focus on Amazon’s funding of travel for abortion services, their reimbursement also covers travel for workers who need help with issues such as substance abuse. And the general data sets have suggested that UK firms would do well to follow Amazon’s path.

Currently, only one in five employers are failing to offer proactive support to workers to help prevent and provide support on issues of drugs and alcohol misuse, according to 2020 research from the CIPD.

The report, titled Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse at Work, found that few employers currently train managers on their organisation’s drug and alcohol policies. Just 12% provide one-off training for line managers and only one-quarter provide regular refresher training.

Further to this, just 26% train managers to recognise the symptoms of drug and alcohol problems, whilst only 32% cover improving management practice more generally, for example how to manage and support employees.

Dr. Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, previously explained: “It is vitally important for organisations to recognise drug or alcohol misuse as a health, safety and employee wellbeing concern, not just a disciplinary issue. Support for people struggling with alcohol and drug misuse must be part of an organisations’ wellbeing offering.

“By having a clear policy in place that sets expectations about behaviour and prioritises genuine support for wellbeing, employers can create a safe environment where people feel able to ask for support. This could encourage people to seek help before a concern becomes a real issue,” Miller concluded.

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