While employees are being more open about their gender identities — whether they identify as gender fluid, intersex, non-binary, transgender or two-spirit — at work these days, there’s still progress to be made when it comes to benefits language, systems, plans and rate tables, says Chantelle Tadman, manager of benefits, savings plans and wellness at WSP Canada Inc.

There’s a growing demand for employers in Canada to offer a non-binary gender option, in addition to the ‘female’ and ‘male’ options, in benefits plans for employees, as well as any spouses or children that may be on a plan as dependants, she says.

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The Canadian arm of the engineering company is able to acknowledge the gender fluidity of employees via its providers, but WSP has been instructed by its group benefits and group retirement savings providers to convert ‘other’ and ‘non-binary’ to ‘male’ since the rates are generally higher for insurance and annuities, says Tadman. Ideally, she’d like to see separate rate tables for benefits and insurance calculations but admits this would take time and money as it’s currently not the standard.

“The life and health insurance industry is very sensitive to the concerns individuals have with being able to indicate the gender they identify with when they are applying for life and health insurance or making insurance claims,” wrote Kevin Dorse, assistant vice-president of strategic communications and public affairs at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, in an emailed statement to Benefits Canada. “A few years ago, the CLHIA developed an industry statement on transgender to alleviate concerns individuals may have when applying for insurance.”

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Indeed, in 2019, the CLHIA developed an industry statement regarding the issue of acknowledging people in insurance documents and tables that don’t identify as ‘female’ or ‘male.’ The statement reads: “In Canada’s society, inclusiveness and equality are important principles. In keeping with these principles, the Canadian life and health insurance industry believes that everyone has the right to define the gender by which they would like to be identified. Life and health insurance pricing depends upon the insurer’s ability to properly assess risk. A person’s sex or gender is one of the factors that may have an impact on risk. The life and health insurance industry recognizes that it needs to adapt to the changing environment to ensure that everyone who applies for insurance will be assessed fairly.”

In response to the CLHIA’s statements, Tadman says: “It will take time to build rate tables; however, if employees are coded incorrectly, there will never be sufficient data to be able to assess risk fairly.”

In response to a request for comment, Beneva Inc. said in a statement: “Beneva believes that everyone has the right to identify themselves as they feel and want. However, our current systems do not allow us to manage ‘non-binary’ or ‘other’ as a gender option.”

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Also in response to a request for comment, Canada Life Assurance Co. said: “At Canada Life, we value, nurture and leverage diversity and inclusion in all that we do. . . . As an organization, we have made significant enhancements to our processes and systems as they relate to ensuring members have options for declaring a gender other than M/F.

“With respect to communicating with customers and using inclusive language, we’ve made many improvements, including adding new gender options to our enrolment and claims systems and phasing in gender-neutral language to all systems and reports, so that our plan member correspondence and explanation of benefits can be generated with gender-neutral language. We’ve also updated our customer service terminology to avoid using outdated gender-specific terms, like husband and wife, moving to more inclusive terms like spouse and partner. We avoid using gender-specific pronouns so as to avoid assuming a person’s gender.”

But Canada Life also noted, “from an underwriting perspective, gender remains a factor in pricing. Where gender has not been disclosed, we rate the risk for any identified conditions based on the lower gender rate, regardless of condition.”

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