Keeping a workplace safe and free of harassment and discrimination is an important part of running a successful business. When working conditions are positive and healthy, both the employers and employees benefit in many ways, including creating an environment and company brand that attracts and keeps some of your best talent. Sexual orientation discrimination is an issue that all employers should address to maintain a company’s strength and to conform to legal parameters of business practices in order to avoid legal action taken by employees. There are many dynamics and behaviors that need to be considered to fight discrimination on the job and keep businesses profitable and employees safe from harm.
The area of legal protection in regards to sexual orientation discrimination is complicated. It is important to understand the parameters in your location to ensure you are not only looking out for the best interest of your employees, but also conforming to legal statutes. Here is a basic primer of the legalities involved with this issue:
- State Law: Twenty states in the United States currently have laws on the books that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in public and private workplaces. Five other states protect individuals at public workplaces only, such as those in governmental positions. There is additional protection in various cities and counties around the nation due to local laws.
- Federal Law: After a number of attempts since 1994, and as recent as 2013, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has failed to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate in the same session of Congress. Although, individual employees of the federal government are protected legally from this issue in the workplace.
- Possible Legal Alternatives: If employees are in a state, county or city with no legal protection, there may be other options depending on the circumstances. Potentially, some employment and labor law may cover sexual orientation discrimination such as sexual harassment or wrongful termination. Also, private employers can have their own policies that cover employees and facilitate disciplinary actions, including termination for the proven offender and reversal of disciplinary action from the discrimination.
You can contact advocacy organizations such as Lambda Legal Defense and Education to clarify your geographical area’s legal status.
Specifics of Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Fighting this type of discrimination in a successful way means understanding the definition and context of the issue in the workplace. It is similar to other types of discrimination based on race, gender, or other differentiating factors. The standard meaning is harassment or differential treatment based on sexual orientation, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual. This can be due to reality or perceived reality of the individual.
It can occur in positions of power over employees, such as supervisors or managers, and may include actions such as wrongful termination, unwarranted written disciplinary actions, and promotions that are passed over due to disagreement with the individual’s sexual orientation. Other activities could include inflammatory remarks and name calling. Coworkers of equal power and status in an organization can also engage in harassment due to negative attitudes toward an employee because of sexual orientation.
Due to the fact that there is no legal protection on the federal level to prohibit this type of discrimination and harassment, fighting it in the workplace through company policies is important to keep it absent from daily business activities. Providing an environment that is not conducive to sexual orientation discrimination promotes a healthy setting not only for the employees, but it also promotes successful business practices as well. Having training programs for awareness of the issue for new employees, as well as continuing education for existing workers, should be a priority for employers and human resource managers in addressing it head on.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.