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Member Exclusive   //   July 7, 2022  ■  7 min read

Beauty & Wellness Briefing: Companies confront the reality of providing abortion access

Priya Rao

This story was originally published on Modern Retail’s sibling site, Glossy

After the reversal of Roe v. Wade, I look at what companies are promising and how they are bracing for a talent and retention fallout.

As Americans confront a post-Roe world, organizations are rushing to assert their stances and configure policies that aid women across the country.

A handful of companies, including Gucci, Levi’s and E.l.f., preemptively changed their health-care and travel expenses guidelines in May when a leaked memo from Supreme Court justices previewed their decision on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. But on June 24, the floodgates opened.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling to formally overturn Roe v. Wade, Ulta Beauty was one of the largest U.S. beauty companies to announce on social media and via PR that, “We are committed to providing equitable access to quality health-care options and to ensuring those enrolled in our medical plan can access covered health care. Effective Friday, June 24, this support was extended to include travel expense assistance for eligible reproductive health services where access to care is restricted.” Ulta Beauty has more than 40,000 associates. Fellow beauty conglomerates Estée Lauder Companies, L’Oréal and LVMH made similar statements soon after, as did multiple smaller brands.

But the question as to whom these policies apply, and whether they include store and distribution associates and unionized employees, remains. Furthermore, none of the policies from the above companies provide clarity on how an employee will be able to opt in to these benefits. The idea of an employee simply telling an HR representative that they need an abortion, as though it were a regular vacation or T&E request, seems farfetched. Ulta Beauty, L’Oréal and LVMH, the parent company of Sephora, Fenty Beauty, Benefit Cosmetics and Guerlain declined to provide further detail on their policies. ELC, Coty and Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.

For these larger organizations, health-care coverage and abortion-related travel-and-expense reimbursement likely extend to those enrolled in a company’s health-care plan.  For instance, Unilever’s coverage applies to all U.S. employees, spouses, domestic partners and dependents enrolled in its medical benefit plan, according to industry sources. Unilever, parent company to Dove and Tatcha, was one of many firms that joined the Don’t Ban Equality coalition, announced in May, pledging to provide employees with comprehensive reproductive health-care benefits and cover travel costs if care is no longer available in their home states. Sources familiar with Unilever’s U.S. operation estimate that more than 40% of its employees live in states that ban or restrict abortion access. Unilever declined to provide further information on its abortion-related policies.

It is somewhat understandable that companies are starting with benefit-enrolled employees first. But nearly 40 million women of childbearing age live in abortion-hostile states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only in 20 states and the District of Columbia is abortion legal and likely to stay protected. That staggering number is well beyond the smattering who work for companies that offer this type of coverage and, secondly, choose to be enrolled in company health care plans, posing a great risk to the female workforce.

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LVMH has not publicly shared the extent of its abortion-related policies, but Sephora said that more than 80% of its U.S. workforce is female-identifying. “We shared with our employees that we would be proactively changing our benefits policy to ensure equitable and safe access to the same high-quality and critical health care, regardless of where they live. For Sephora U.S. employees who live in a state that has or decides to restrict access to reproductive health care, Sephora will support travel costs to a state where they can safely receive care,” said a spokesperson.

Since 2020, it’s become commonplace for brands to publicly share their cultural viewpoints on debated topics, in an effort to align themselves on what they and their consumers believe is the right side of conversations. According to Pew Research Center data from June, 61% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

But one beauty brand founder who declined to be named and lives and runs a company in a state with a trigger ban said they have chosen not to speak out publicly, even though the company is offering to provide abortion-related health-care coverage and T&E to all employees. The same is true of another beauty brand CEO who runs a business in a state where abortion is still legal. Part of the reason, they explained, was because they fear being criminalized by publicly taking a stance or providing too much detail about their health-care policies. Legislators in Texas, for instance, are going to great lengths to punish businesses for providing abortion access.

“The situation is legally complex and constantly evolving; exactly how we do this and in what circumstances is still being developed,” said Robert Rigby-Hall, chief people officer at Orveon Global. Orveon Global is the company that owns Bare Minerals, Buxom and Laura Mercier, following Shiseido’s sale to private equity firm Advent International in 2021. “We may take a slightly broader approach and offer travel expenses for treatments that cannot be legally obtained near the employee’s home or in their home state but can be legally obtained in another state.” As it stands, Orveon Global’s reproductive health policy is for benefit-enrolled employees at the corporate, retail and field level.

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Businesses that don’t have the pockets of an LMVH, Ulta Beauty or Unilever certainly run legal risk if they share statements on social media channels or their websites. But at the same time, smaller- to medium-sized businesses are often disruptors, especially in beauty.

Over at Versed, president Melanie Bender said that it took a broader approach to provide employees with access. Versed ensures all employees, part-time as well as those not enrolled in the brand’s health-care policy, will be eligible for travel expenses for services not available in their home state. That includes health care and abortion, as well as gender-affirming care.

Shai Eisenman, founder and CEO of Gen-Z-focused Bubble Skincare, has extended a travel expense reimbursement for reproductive treatments and mental health hospitalization up to $5,000 for its approximately 25 employees. Though Eisenman’s team is largely based in New York, three employees are based in Arkansas and Kentucky. Eisenman is also hiring. Bubble Skincare is not yet two years old.

Beyond sharing values and ensuring current employees feel heard, Eisenman suspects that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will have serious implications on women in the workplace and companies’ abilities to attract and keep talent. “Retaining talent in 2022 is extremely hard, and this will make it even harder,” she said. “The connection to employers has never been weaker, and if employers won’t be supporting the rights of employees through these challenges, employee turnover will become even worse.”

She’s right. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began stateside, shaking up the workplace status quo, companies have had to entice employees to stay put. Not to mention, the job market remains strong even with sky-high inflation and recession worries. Some companies that will likely feel the brunt of limited abortion access quickly are Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Cincinnati, Ohio-based Proctor & Gamble, home to beauty brands Olay and SK-II. Both companies have made major inroads to appeal to female millennial and Gen-Z consumers. As the beauty industry is built off the backs of women and services them, the topic of supporting abortion rights hits especially close to home.

James Park, president of Herbivore, agreed. “With the labor market the way it is, everyone has a choice and freedom to resign or go to another job. It was really important to make a statement for Herbivore and — even though it is not really clear about who, what, where, when and how [abortion-rights policies] can implicate a company or individuals — it is worth the risk,” he said.

Seattle-based Herbivore has approximately 40 employees, three-quarters of whom are women. More than 10% live in states where abortion is outlawed or restricted. Herbivore is providing travel and accommodation expenses for all benefit-enrolled employees. In addition, it has made resources and virtual care available, being mindful of data privacy, said Park, who noted the company is looking at broader coverage policies. 

“You have to put a line in the sand, take action and stand up for the rights of women. This might take months to figure out or it might take 10 years, but we can’t wait that long to protect our people,” said Park.

“It will be interesting to see how employees and candidates respond. Some people may choose either to not relocate to some states or to move away from those states,” said Rigby-Hall. “Others may not want to work for companies based on the perceived political stance companies take. We believe we will still be able to attract and retain talent by staying true to our values.”

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