Levi Strauss & Co.’s (LS&Co.) website proudly proclaims, “We’ve always stood up for what’s right!”
The global apparel company synonymous with its iconic blue jeans was a leader in extending health benefits to domestic partners, pioneered labor and environmental guidelines in manufacturing, and even gives employees paid time off to vote.
Today, LS&Co. is making a mark in health equity – which means everyone has the same chance to be healthy regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, veteran status or other factors.
LS&Co. is part of the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable, a group of nearly 50 CEOs dedicated to understanding and eliminating health inequities where people work. The roundtable commissioned a recent report, “Driving Health Equity in the Workplace,” that includes guiding principles and strategies for organizations to use as they move forward on the journey of creating equitable health.
One important part of that work is access to health benefits.
LS&Co. has long offered full-time retail associates in the United States the same health plan available to corporate employees. And while it has gone beyond federal requirements for non-discrimination, LS&Co. wants its health plans to align with the goal of each employee having an equal opportunity to be healthy, said Kathy Farmer, senior director of global benefits at LS&Co.
“It’s one thing to have a plan. It’s another thing to be able to afford deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance, or even just the monthly premium when you have an array of people who have different financial circumstances,” she said.
To help with equal access, LS&Co. developed a program called One, Two, Three Equals Free.
“We will give any and every employee the opportunity to have free health care for the year if they participate in some very basic wellness activities,” Farmer said.
Employees are asked to take a confidential health-risk assessment to get their biometrics, and to get some kind of preventive screening. Last year employees could earn a credit by getting a COVID-19 vaccination. Under One, Two, Three Equals Free, employees saw their premiums drop from $1,150 to zero. Employees carrying family coverage had their cost reduced by the same $1,150.
“It’s a motivator,” Farmer said, adding the program is extremely popular. “We feel that it contributes to reducing the barrier for the cost of carrying the health insurance.”
Scott White, senior vice president of Global People Operations and Rewards at LS&Co. said, “We provide everyone a roughly $95 monthly savings— which is a greater percent of total compensation for our retail and distribution center employees—to help make healthcare more affordable.”
“We’ve got a long way to go, but we think it’s an industry-leading first step to do that,” said White, who was part of the expert writing panel for “Driving Health Equity in the Workplace.”
The company also bumped up its insurance from 80% to 90% in terms of co-insurance, and employees can get a free second opinion.
“Health equity really starts at the wellness and prevention space because if people can activate and get access to things they need, much of the health care system can be avoidable for them. Not in all cases, but many,” Farmer said.
LS&Co. also offers a discounted gym membership. The company has a relationship with the gym next door to corporate headquarters in San Francisco, but the same perk wasn’t available for all employees at retail stores across the country. So, it introduced a program that reimburses employees $50 a month for a gym membership.
An employee just has to use the gym 12 times a month or workout at home and log their workouts in an app.
Other factors can affect equity as well, such as having the time to make it to doctors’ appointments and take care of the medical needs of children and parents.
LS&Co. enhanced its benefits with paid family medical leave at the beginning of 2020 and also enhanced paid sick time for its part-time employees “which was not really a market practice, but we felt was the right thing to do,” Farmer said.
“We’re taking a look at this from an equity perspective that we believe that having paid time off enables people to not have to make career-limiting decisions,” Farmer said.
LS&Co. also opened on-site health clinics at three distribution centers and is considering adding one at the corporate office.
Scott said many of LS& Co.’s initiatives are “beyond competitive.” And they’ve gotten there with support from the company’s leadership.
“We’ve never faced a situation they weren’t open to,” Scott said. “I think having leadership support is critical to getting any of this done.”
Editor’s Note: Health Equity at Work highlights efforts underway at companies in the CEO Roundtable. However, the American Heart Association does not endorse or promote products or services from Levi Strauss & Co. or any other organization. Comments and opinions expressed in this editorial by people outside the Association do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Association.