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Ask the Capitalist: Am I Discriminating Against Singles By Paying Full Premiums for Family Coverage?

KD  -

I’d love to get your thoughts on the notion that it’s an unfair practice for companies to fund more $$$ towards the healthcare coverage costs of employees with families than they pay for the single employees.  We all know the costs of insuring a family are at least triple the costs of insuring an individual, so do you buy into this as "singles discrimination" or standard practice (If Company X pays $400/month for an employee and $1,200/month for a family)?   I've got my thoughts on the matter, but I think your readers would be interested in a blog post on the topic, should this interest you.  Thanks and happy Spring!

Donna in Dallas


Donna - 

Discrimination? No. Unfair? No. Interesting topic?  Yes.

It's a market-based issue.

When it comes to the percentages you pay to cover insurance premiums for singles vs. families, I'd cover the topic in the following way:  People who are trying to insure their families value insurance more than singles do.  While there can be exceptions to that rule, the young immortals who make up most of the single pool don't value insurance as much as people with kids.  Therefore, you paying more to insure families is an actual investment that can pay dividends on the recruiting and retention trail toward those who need family coverage.  

Now look at the other side.  Will it actually help you recruit the young immortals and others who fall in the single coverage bucket by saying, "we're equitable in how we cover single and family coverage"?  The answer is no - for the most part, most single coverage individuals aren't going to make a decision to join or stay with your company based on that.  

My take - the single coverage folks who are complaining to you about this aren't disadvantaged, they're just chronic complainers.  If they leave the company, you'd be better off.  I'd redirect them to take full advantage of all the benefits your company offers before they start trying to take things away from others, because if you're an average employer with average benefits, I'll guarantee you that there are things they aren't using.  If you're thinking about offering additional benefits to this group due to this issue, I'd make it something like Tuition Aid - something where that group has to actually put forth some effort and investment in themselves rather than just complaining.  Lame.

Last note - God help the politician who tries to make family coverage employees potentially pay more in any circumstance due to this angle.  

I'd short his stock immediately, because that sucker is going down. 


David Hughes63

"The single coverage folks that are complaining to you about this aren't disadvantaged, they're just chronic complainers. If they leave the company, you'd be better off."



This one cycles back about every 15 years. The comp consultants don't explore it since client's won't pay them to. There is an issue with equity but it's a little like the issue of single, non-parents paying tax to support public schools. It surprises me that no one takes up the issue. From a compensation perspective, aren't parents getting a greater chunk of the rewards budget than singles? I think it's a legitimate issue to explore, not an issue chronic complainers.


As someone who lived as a single for 20 years in the US system, I raised this issue numerous times at staff meetings and executive team meetings. This DOES do damage - singles talk about it when their partnered and parented teammates aren't around. I'm with Vicki above - someone smart is going to do this right, be ridiculously transparent about it, and win a lot of loyal employees...


I have argued this point myself as a benefits manager, and I have a family. It is a clear case of discrimination in favor of employees with families and I don't understand why it hasn't become a bigger issue. Lord knows other less significant discrimination efforts get more play.

Michael Haberman SPHR

Sorry.. it is not discrimination. The commenters use that term too loosely. Favoritism perhaps. But not discrimination. "Single" is not a protected catagory under the law.

I am with KD on this one.


On the flip side, could this (does this?) encourage employers to hire single employees instead of employees with spouse/child(ren)? It's much cheaper for them...

If employees are asked to cover a certain percentage of health care, why shouldn't employees with dependents be asked to pay more? It costs more, they're using more, they should pay for it!

(For the record, I'm currently engaged, no kids... but will be adding spouse and possibly kids in the future... so I think I'm looking at this "fairly" from both angles!)


Hi Folks -

I get the sentiment that by offering a lower total $$ spend on singles, there's unfairness at best and discrimination at worst.

But being single isn't a protected class, and as I said at the end of the post, good luck to whatever politician or party tries to expand that protection. It'll never happen.

Which makes it a market issue. It'd be interesting to see someone make the positioning of "we pay equal" center to a recruiting strategy. They'd be sure to draw only chronic complainers, and would shortly be saying "wha?????" after every chronic complainer left their firm shortly after having their first child.

Classic. Good points about the potential for gender or age discrimination related to avoiding those with kids. Big boy/girl issue, much more so than paying equal for the cost of coverage between single and family coverage.


Jennifer G.

I think this issue is similar to the issues singles raise that there is a perception that those co-workers with families are allowed more flexible time to attend various activities related to their families. I don't think it is discrimination however I do think, as someone who is single but is not a "young immortal" nor a "chronic complainer" that businesses should pay more attention to rewarding those who are doing the lion's share of the work. While there are many employees with families out there who work hard there are those who are just taking a job to get cheap health insurance for their families and their dedication to the employer ends once their premium increases. As an HR Manager I can say I've seen this time and time again and I've heard just as many, if not more, complaints from the "family" folks when it comes time to benefit changes for the coming year anytime their coverage or premium is affected. The singles however, usually remain fairly quiet and do not complain about the fact that they are paying higher premiums for healthcare that they rarely use because their co-worker runs their child to the doctor every time they get a cough.


How is being single not a protected class? (I am asking honestly, not being facetious...) Isn't "familial status" a prtected class? If it was meant to protect only "those with children" it would be called that, wouldn't it? Whether you have a spouse or children or not, that IS your "familial status"...


Hi LC -

Good question, while family status may be a protected class related to things like housing laws (you can't say no to someone in the housing market because they have kids), to my knowledge it's not afforded any broader protection.

The focus is also on protecting those with kids since that's traditionally where the discrimination in that sector has been.

Any employment law folks reading? Feel free to jump in...


Jared Hooste

Title VII and all the executive orders around work discrimination were designed to protect classes that had been discriminated against in the past. Singles were never discriminated against. Single women, maybe but not just singles. There are specific laws that protect pregnant women, but that has nothing to do with marital status. Disclosure, I'm married with two kids, so I think it is great that Donna's company offer free health care as benefit to her employees and their covered loved ones. The benefit is health care. If that is the benefit was does it matter how much of it they use. Would you put a cap on a particularly unhealthy single employee? I would hope not. Would you put a cap on how many children are covered?
Also, didn't your buddy Tim Sackett write on the business need to have kids over at Fistful of Talent.


There is probably a bigger issue here when singles complain about coworkers with families getting a better benefit. Coworkers with families tend to also getting better shifts, get out of working many weekends, or working holidays. They also have many excuses for not working late etc. etc. If it were just the medical benefit a single would probably tend to let that go. It is the single getting the raw deal with shifts, holiday, working late, etc etc.


KD's response to the question reflects an entitlement mentality and disdain for meritocracies and real capitalism. Employers should compensate according to the value of an individual's work, not according to personal lifestyles.

You may have the best of intentions, but you are forcing single employees to subsidize their colleagues. (KD acts as if these benefits come from the tooth fairy, rather than a company's pool of personnel costs.) Noting this discrepancy does not make one a chronic complainer. It means that the employee can do basic math.

This practice is not illegal, but it is absurdly outdated, a throwback to the days when women didn't work and health insurance cost $25 a month. More and more companies are realizing this and dropping or dramatically lowering subsidies for dependents.

If you want to be a social engineer, continue as you are. If you want to be a decent employer, keep the personal and professional separate in your compensation calculations. You can provide access to family benefits through your plan, but the extra cost of the dependents should be borne only by the employee who lives with them.

If you believe in forcing single employees to share co-workers' personal responsibilities, then be sure to demand that your married workers share any inheritance their spouses receive or any salary they earn over a certain level. Paternalistic socialism, if you insist on it, must be a two-way street.

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