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Offering abortion benefits after ‘Dobbs’ may have been a double-edged sword for employers

A new study finds companies that offered abortion-related benefits after the overturning of ‘Roe v. Wade’ saw an uptick in interest for their job postings, but a decline in worker satisfaction.
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4 min read

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June of last year, some companies rolled out benefits to cover the cost of travel for employees who need to seek abortions in another state.

Though the decision opened up employers to potential criticism and legal scrutiny, some companies argued the benefits were imperative for their workers’ health and safety. Employers also saw an opportunity to take a public stance on a political issue that had implications for retention: A majority of workers reported wanting to work for companies that supported access to abortion more than those that didn’t, a July 2022 survey by LeanIn.org found.

A recent paper published by researchers with Indeed, the University of Maryland, the University of Southern California, and the Institute of Labor Economics found the decision to offer travel benefits post-Roe may have proved a double-edged sword for employers. While companies that offered the benefits attracted more job-seeker interest than those that didn’t, they also saw their management ratings fall.

Abortion-friendly policies affect recruitment. The scholars analyzed Indeed data associated with more than 440 firms that announced abortion travel benefits and found clicks on their job postings rose 8% between Q3 2022 and Q2 2023, compared with similarly-situated employers that did not announce supportive reproductive care policies after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. Starbucks, for example, was compared against competitors that didn’t announce these benefits, such as Chipotle and McDonald’s.

The findings indicate that rolling out new policies in response to Dobbs helped employers from a recruitment perspective, Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Indeed, told HR Brew. “If you’re trying to attract talent, if you want more attention to your job postings, that certainly got you there,” she said.

A dip in worker satisfaction. At the same time, companies that announced policies to support reproductive healthcare saw ratings for senior management on Glassdoor fall by 8% compared to non-announcing firms, the study found.

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The decline in worker satisfaction with management was concentrated among employees in typically male-dominated professions, such as tech, construction, and engineering. This suggests that “there could be some element of gender politics even at play,” Gudell said, and that “perhaps at least partially your employee base will not appreciate [abortion-related benefits].”

Concerns from employees could be both financial and ideological, Gudell suggested. Workers might disagree with an employer’s decision to invest in an abortion-related benefit, rather than something that would apply to a wider swath of employees. They might also oppose greater abortion access, and thus disagree with their company’s decision to facilitate, she said.

When benefits and politics intersect. Over the past few years, company leaders have had to decide whether to weigh in on a number of political and social issues, from abortion access to racial justice to LGBTQ+ rights. HR departments may find themselves in the middle of these discussions, serving as a kind of broker between employees and management. The overturning of Roe proved particularly tricky for HR leaders, as it touched on an issue that was not only political, but also had implications for workers’ health.

In offering abortion travel benefits, companies sent a “signaling mechanism” that they cared about this issue, Gudell said. The findings of this study seem to suggest that workers will put in the time to research how prospective employers are responding to major political events. At the same time, speaking publicly about these issues may turn off current employees.

“These social matters, therefore, really matter and make a difference in the greater labor market,” she said.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.