Employers and Contraceptive Coverage

In case you missed it, a federal court of appeals ruled last Friday that religiously affiliated nonprofit employers can’t block their employees’ health care coverage for contraceptives.

The ruling in Catholic Health Care System v. Burwell finds that the plaintiffs, which include Catholic health care systems and Catholic high schools, are not burdened by having to formally object to covering contraceptives for employees.

The American Civil Liberties Union  supported the government’s arguments by participating in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the religious accommodation in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive rule imposed no substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ religious freedom.

The plaintiffs challenged a requirement that employers that object to including contraceptive coverage in their employee’s insurance plans notify their insurers or the government of their objection.  The insurer must then arrange and pay for the contraceptive coverage separately.

“Today’s victory is not only incredibly important for the more than 12,000 employees who stand to gain contraception coverage, but it also sends a clear message that an employer’s religious beliefs can’t be used to deny health care benefits to employees,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “We fight hard to protect religious freedom at the ACLU, but that right doesn’t allow employers to discriminate against their female employees.”

With Friday’s decision, the Second Circuit joins six other circuits that have found that the accommodation poses no substantial burden on the nonprofits’ religion, including the D.C., Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits.  No circuit court has ruled the other way.

Viewed purely from an HR perspective, the ruling seems to be yet another small — but welcome — step toward full equality in the workplace.