3 Tips to Avoid LGBTQ+ Discrimination in the Workplace

LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace

Progress toward LGBTQ+ equality has been made in recent years, but more work is needed. Here are three tips to help business leaders prevent LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.

The evolution of today's global workforce, coupled with ongoing legislation tied to LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace, has introduced a host of new challenges for both employees and business leaders alike.

While notable progress toward LGBTQ+ equality has been made over the past decade, a 2020 research study from the Center for American Progress shows members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to experience discrimination in the workplace. More than one-third of LGBTQ+ survey respondents say their ability "to be hired" has been negatively affected to a moderate or significant degree. The same research also shows that three in 10 LGBTQ+ workers have faced negative impacts on their "salary or ability to be promoted" or their "ability to retain employment." In addition to this, according to the latest U.S. Transgender Survey, more than one-quarter of transgender workers reported not being hired, being denied a promotion or being fired due to their gender identity or expression.

What is workplace discrimination?

In general, the word "discrimination" means to treat a person differently or less favorably for some reason. In a workplace context, discrimination affects hiring, firing, promotions, salary, job assignments, training, benefits and more. This is because decisions or actions are based on an applicant's or employee's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older) or genetic information.

Discrimination in the workplace can be intentional or unintentional and can happen between employees, or between employee and employer. Discrimination can occur as a one-time incident or be ongoing. Regardless of the intended purpose, discrimination is harmful.

Understanding the true cost

Most leaders acknowledge the critical role HR plays in making sure the right policies are in place to prevent discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Given the significant financial implications of failing to protect or directly violating the rights of LGBTQ+ workers, it's also something finance leaders are prioritizing.

"Organizations could face varied financial consequences should a lawsuit arise from hiring or firing someone based on sexual orientation," explains Mollie Mantia, Senior Director of Compliance & Security for National Account Services at ADP. "We have seen Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) court cases settle with payouts of more than $200,000 for this type of discrimination."

In addition to the obvious potential for costly lawsuits, failing to prevent discrimination can also cost you in terms of talent. Establishing a workplace that celebrates diversity and values inclusion can significantly enhance an employer's recruiting appeal — especially among members of the LGBTQ+ community, who still face widespread discrimination at work.

"With an engaged, diverse and inclusive workforce, you are fostering an environment where employees are productive, feel valued and feel free to express ideas that may be the next big change to move your company forward," Mantia says.

It's important for HR to partner closely with executives at every level to determine the right investments and develop the necessary policies and procedures to protect both the rights of employees and the organization's bottom line. As you consider your approach, here are three tips to help you better understand the true cost of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.

1. Stay on top of evolving legislation

To maintain compliance, business leaders need to have awareness of both emerging and current legal protections for LGBTQ+ workers. For instance, they should know that the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination, including LGBTQ+ discrimination, on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and religion. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Private-sector organizations, including employment agencies and labor organizations, as well as state and local governments and the federal government, are required to comply with Title VII.

Official rulings on complaints of discrimination against transgender employees have varied. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 15, 2020 that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are included in the definition of "sex." Therefore, discrimination against transgender individuals in employment would be a violation of Title VII. For more information on protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, leaders can visit the EEOC website.

Business decision-makers should also keep abreast of legal protections for transgender employees at both the state and local levels.

2. Minimize your exposure to liability

Unfortunately, some organizations will be sued despite their best efforts to prevent LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace. Your role as a leader is to make sure you've done your part to minimize the organization's exposure to liability. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

  • Review relevant policies and make any necessary updates multiple times a year to make sure you stay compliant — such as the latest ruling regarding Title VII as well as emerging state and local protections.
  • Ensure there is always a written record of prior discipline when terminating an employee, and formally document the specific reason(s) for the termination as soon as the decision is made.
  • Implement policies and procedures that minimize the potential for unconscious bias to inform hiring and promotion decisions. For instance, your organization can adopt "blind" processes for reviewing applications and resumes (removing information such as name, address, graduation date, alma mater, etc.) and use standardized interview questions for all candidates.
  • Keep hard copies of corporate policies, HR forms and signed acknowledgments of their receipt by employees.
  • Communicate any policy revisions to all employees — use multiple channels (email, hard copy postings, intranet updates, staff meetings, etc.) to try and ensure you reach all worker populations.

3. Invest in training and supporting resources

So, tip No. 1 keeps you up-to-date on changes in local legislation, and tip No. 2 makes sure you have all the appropriate "paperwork" in order. But how do you go about bringing these things to life? It's all about defining the specific behaviors you want to cultivate among managers and employees to foster an inclusive workplace that supports LGBTQ+ employees.

Start by offering both manager and employee-specific training on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, including how it relates to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Examples of training topics to cover include LGBTQ+ terminology, gender-neutral language, what is inclusive conduct, following a preferred name policy, understanding and addressing implicit bias, reporting discrimination and how to be an ally.

Keep in mind, employees will look to their managers to translate what corporate policy means for them, so make sure anti-harassment, bullying and nondiscrimination policies include LGBTQ+ individuals. Leaders should set expectations by defining appropriate workplace behaviors that are consistent with their business's stated beliefs and values about inclusion. SHRM advises employers to view this process as "changing employees' workplace behaviors to be in accordance with the company's expectations, not changing an employee's personal beliefs."

Review other policies as well, such as dress code expectations and make sure they are neutral without gender stereotypes. To prevent potential bias from seeping in, it is suggested that leaders take steps to educate teams on unconscious bias and the importance of fair and consistent treatment. Policy and guideline information for LGBTQ+-inclusive behavior and practices should be widely accessible to all employees and managers.

Ultimately, preparing leaders for success in their role as communicators is one of the best ways to create an inclusive environment that truly respects, embraces and leverages the skill sets and experiences of a diverse workforce. To help facilitate this further, leaders can implement a business resource group to promote an inclusive culture and encourage LBGTQ+ employees to connect globally with a network of people that share common interests and experiences.

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