The struggle for equal rights for individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) has moved into the forefront more than ever before, and it’s having a dramatic impact on workplaces that are becoming increasingly diverse.
Although Title VII does not explicitly ban sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has unequivocally stated that it considers this to be a form of sex discrimination. Approximately half of the states and numerous cities already prohibit such discrimination. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in 2015, and many states and cities are permitting individuals to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
Therefore, it is critical for an employer to follow these key tips to make its workplace more LGBT-friendly and ensure all persons are treated fairly and equally regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity:
1. Develop, Implement and Enforce Strong EEO Policies
The first step toward having an LGBT-inclusive workplace is maintaining strong EEO policies and a zero tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The employer should identify a multi-channel reporting procedure and encourage employees and supervisors to report unlawful conduct. The policy also should be part of the employee handbook.
2. Provide Training
Training both employees and supervisors on discrimination, retaliation, harassment and bullying against LGBT employees is essential. An employer should warn employees and supervisors to avoid the use of stereotypes and offensive language, jokes and slurs. Comprehensive training, particularly with regard to supervisors, can be critical in minimizing the risk of employer liability. Cheryl Behymer, a partner with Fisher Phillips tells employers to “be sure to open lines of communication about how to talk about LGBT issues in the workplace. The terminology is fluid and dynamic, and it is important to discuss with the persons involved what kinds of language they find appropriate.”
3. Review Hiring Practices
It’s critical to ensure that your organization’s recruiting and hiring process is bias-free. Job titles, job descriptions and job advertisements should be closely evaluated to eliminate bias. It is also important to avoid discriminatory questions on job applications and interviews. In addition, an employer should steer clear of questions that may lead to private information regarding sexual orientation and gender identity such as marital status or a spouse’s name.
4. Embrace Diversity and Inclusion
An employer should strive to create a diverse and inclusive workplace and make all individuals feel welcome. This means all Individuals should be able to work to their full potential and be evaluated based on merit, skills and qualifications free of illegal bias.
5. Be Sensitive Regarding Restrooms and Locker Rooms
When it comes to rest rooms, locker rooms and other public facilities, an employer should permit all employees and third parties to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their current gender identity regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.
Single-occupant gender neutral restrooms may provide increased privacy for all individuals. If an employer maintains multi-occupant restrooms with stalls, it may be a good idea to install additional privacy measures such as stall doors and dividers which can make everyone feel more comfortable. If another employee is uncomfortable with an LGBT individual using a particular restroom, that employee should be permitted to use another facility.
6. Dress Codes Should Not Discriminate
Dress codes should be reasonable and should not place unequal burdens on men and women. An employer also should provide LGBT individuals with reasonable accommodations by permitting them to dress consistently with their gender identity. The same goes for clothing, grooming, jewelry and makeup.
7. Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups for LGBT employees can provide opportunities for individuals to network and discuss common workplace issues and challenges. These groups can also improve employee morale and create a sense of community.
8. Provide Equal Benefits
When offering a benefits package, an employer must ensure there are no exclusions based on sex and that it does not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. The employer should also provide benefits in the form of medical care and disability and provide LGBT employees with equal coverage.
9. Be Supportive of Transitioning Employees
It is important to provide the utmost support to employees who are transitioning and provide reasonable accommodations when appropriate. An employer needs to make sure that crucial issues are discussed, including:
• Name change;
• Change of employee records;
• Dress code, restroom and locker room use;
• Communications with co-workers and third parties;
• Time off for treatment and any other accommodations; as well as
• Confidentiality and privacy issues.
Providing the appropriate support and assistance during this challenging time is essential.
10. Obtain Support of Management and HR
For any workplace to be truly LGBT-friendly, it is critical that management and HR set a good example for the rest of the organization. Cheryl Behymer of Fisher Phillips suggests that “the HR or compliance persons who are leading the organization, drafting and implementing the policies and procedures, or structuring the affinity or resource groups should also carefully examine their own personal feelings about LGBT issues so that they become aware of what might otherwise be unconscious biases.”
To the extent the laws require certain compliance efforts, Behymer says it is important that the top officials within the organization communicate their support and endorsement of these efforts. Then, she explains, “When the concepts are incorporated into other training activities, they have a greater significance and credibility by virtue of support from the top.”
There are distinct benefits when an employer maintains a workplace that is diverse, inclusive and LGBT-friendly as it can increase productivity, efficiency and employee retention, and it may result in an overall more healthy and positive work environment.
How does your workplace compare?