Global employers work to provide same-sex spousal benefits


Japanese e-commerce organisation Rakuten has extended the benefits available to employees’ spouses to same-sex partners, revising the definition of both ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ in its internal employment policies.

Previously, the policy only recognised a marriage certificate under Japanese law. Although same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan, the global organisation has amended its internal policies to ensure that same-sex partners can benefit from congratulatory leave when they officiate their relationship and condolence leave in the event of a partner’s death, as well as consolation payments.

The change was approved by the organisation’s board of directors in July 2016, and came into effect in August.

Akio Sugihara, chief people officer and managing executive officer at Rakuten, said: “We recognise that, especially in Japan where there is a lack of legal protections, LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people often feel as if they have to hide who they are in order to succeed professionally. Updating our employment policies is one way for us to demonstrate our commitment and support to our LGBT colleagues and their partners in an official, corporate capacity.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive within the [organisation] and people are excited to see Rakuten moving forward so quickly. Of course, we want to do more, but the overall consensus is that this is a very positive first step, and we hope to see it influence other Japanese [organisations] to also take concrete steps by offering inclusive employment policies.”

However, multi-national organisations looking to adopt inclusive, global policies may have to navigate a minefield of cultural sensitivities when considering staff relationships across different countries. Homosexual activity, for example, is punishable by death in some countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, parts of Nigeria and Sudan,

Elizabeth Lang, employment partner at international law firm Bird and Bird, said: “[Employers] need to be aware of what applies on the ground in a particular country.”

If multi-national organisations take a global approach to such policies, the terminology used can still be generic enough that local jurisdiction can be applied in individual locations.

Lang added: “What you will sometimes see is handbooks will have quite non-specific aspirational statements, so these would be quite broad statements that wouldn’t be specific about particular items. When you come down to country-wide policy, then it would be more detailed and perhaps a policy that [organisations] would have in the UK, wouldn’t be a policy that [employers] have in, for example, Iran.”

For example, the term ‘family members’ could be used to include same-sex partners in countries where same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are permitted, however, in locations where same-sex marriage is not legally recognised, it could refer only to spouses of the opposite sex.