Workplace

Big Tech is still preparing for post-Roe. It should already be planning for the next SCOTUS ruling.

HR experts said companies need to be proactive about protections for contraception, privacy and LGBTQ+ rights.

U.S. Supreme Court officers sit on top of the U.S. Supreme Court Building to oversee protests occuring in reaction to the announcement to the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Experts say tech leaders need to start thinking about future Supreme Court rulings.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Tech companies are still trying to prepare for a post-Roe world. But it might already be time to think about what the Supreme Court is planning next.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court should also reconsider rulings protecting contraception and same-sex relationships, citing Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell. If those decisions were ever overruled, it would have massive implications for everyone, but especially for employees living in states where same-sex marriage is at risk of becoming illegal without a federal shield.

Dozens of tech companies have announced policies to protect workers seeking abortions over the past month, and many of the logistics of those plans are unclear or still being decided. But given that the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion might be followed by more rulings down the line, HR experts said companies need to be proactive about protections for contraception, privacy and LGBTQ+ rights.

“Anybody who’s thinking about what’s going on in this country generally has to think about this,” said Janet Stovall, global head of DEI at the NeuroLeadership Institute.

How companies responded to Roe v. Wade

When the decision to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on abortion was first leaked last month, some companies responded immediately with benefits. Others stood on the sidelines.

Companies including Bumble, Microsoft and Tesla announced almost immediately that they would cover abortion-related travel costs, while others said they’d offer relocation assistance for those living in states where abortion is heavily restricted (dozens of tech companies are based in states where abortion could become illegal or restricted). Some tech leaders were more quiet at the time of the leaked ruling. Meta, for example, told workers not to discuss abortion on its internal messaging platform. PlayStation told workers to “respect differences of opinion.”

Now that the ruling is official, companies are much more outspoken. Meta and Apple joined the chorus of tech companies publicly announcing their abortion-related travel coverage, although the exact steps companies are taking to implement the policy without exposing employee data aren’t entirely clear. “We are in the process of assessing how best to do so given the legal complexities involved,” a Meta spokesperson told Protocol. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

How companies can prepare for a future ruling

When it comes to future rulings, though, companies are once again choosing silence for now. Protocol asked 22 companies providing abortion-related travel coverage if they are preparing for a world in which same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships are not federally protected, given Thomas’ opinion. The companies that responded — including Indeed, Meta, Yelp, Match Group, Citigroup, DoorDash and Microsoft — reiterated their abortion coverage plans but did not say whether they are preparing for future Supreme Court rulings. DoorDash said it couldn’t speculate on future court decisions.

Yuvay Ferguson, a marketing professor at Howard University, said now is the time for companies to expand their actions beyond covering abortion-related travel. Ferguson said Justice Thomas’ opinion should serve as an alarm for everyone to act, including tech companies.

“Companies need to make sure they have a stance of supporting reproductive rights, not necessarily singularly focusing on abortion,” Ferguson said.

Contraception falls under that umbrella, but rights to same-sex relationships and marriage may come under fire as well. Tech companies will feel more pressure to go beyond rainbow-colored websites and declarations and stand up for LGBTQ+ folks internally and externally. Staying silent on bills like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law may no longer fly.

“How are you supporting people internally who don’t have the same resources as the people at the top, writing these PR statements?” said Madison Butler, chief people officer at cannabis company Grav. “It all comes down to inward accountability.”

Stovall said companies should first take care of people internally and be sure to communicate the gravity of the situation. Next, look at the legal landscape and figure out the actions you could even take against a harmful law. Lastly, carefully consider if you want to take a stand on the issue externally because if you do, you have to follow through. You don’t want to be perceived as picking and choosing certain issues, Stovall said.

“Is what you’re saying deliberate?” Stovall said. “Is it educated, is it purposeful, is it tailored to who you are and is it habitual? You need to be sure that it's something that you're gonna support going forward.”

Butler said the first and most important action is to have honest conversations with your marginalized employees. In other words, the employees whose rights would be most impacted by the reversal of these rulings. What do they need in order to feel supported? Maybe it’s an immediate need, like relocation. Maybe they want more concrete anti-discrimination policies or active advocation against harmful legislation. Butler emphasized that this messaging should come from the top, not just from employee activists or ERGs.

“All of these conversations should live in the C-suite,” Butler said. “We should absolutely be expecting this work and emotional labor from the people who are taking home millions every year.”

Salaried tech workers are not the people who will struggle most to get an abortion or contraception. Ferguson said she hopes tech companies, with all their power and money, don’t forget about the hourly workers who are most harmed by the rollback of rights. Tech leaders may start to think about preemptively advocating against these decisions, or their role in protecting user data from being weaponized. Stovall said companies should think about their locations in states that especially limit rights. “How do we have equity when we operate in inequitable spaces?” she said.

In the immediate wake of the Roe reversal, and in potential future decisions to come, Butler recommended giving employees space to feel a complex bundle of emotions.

“This is not just some brushstroke news article,” Butler said. “It’s not an op-ed. This is people’s lives.”

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