October 29, 2015

team building exerciseThe Supreme Court decision that all states must recognize same-sex marriage brings lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) issues into the forefront. This development, coupled with the news of the famed Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner coming out as transgender, signals changes that may impact you and your business more than you know. Not only is there an increased need for sensitivity and awareness about gender and sexual orientation in the workplace, but there are now more employee protections for employers to navigate.

The EEOC is clear that it now considers employment discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity, transgender status, or even cross-dressing as a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The call to action right now as employers is to be proactive in educating your employees, and especially your managers, about these laws. This includes education about how to avoid discrimination or retaliation in these areas, and thus avoid the litigation and damages that could result.

Understanding some vocabulary can help you be more sensitive to LGBTQ individuals. Let’s start with some terms that will make discussing these issues more clear.

  • Cisgender (often abbreviated to simply cis): A person whose experiences of their own gender matches the sex assigned at birth, their bodies and their personal identity. In other words, a cisgender person is non-transgender.
  • Sexual Orientation: The type of sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to; often mistakenly referred to as “sexual preference.” Note that sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, like gender identity or biological sex. Sexual orientation includes the subsets of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and sometimes asexuality.
  • Transgender: Referring to people who experience a mismatch between their gender identity (or their psychological self) and the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with.
  • Queer or Questioning: The Q in LGBTQ can stand for either queer or questioning. Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Questioning refers to the process of exploring one’s gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons.

Using these terms correctly is important because gender expectations often drive how we think people should behave. For example, we may expect women to wear dresses and make up in order to look professional. However, those expectations are discriminatory, and harmfully so, if a woman who only wears pants and doesn’t wear makeup is treated differently—or worse, is disciplined for not adhering to a dress code that excludes her because of her gender expression or gender identity. These gender norms and expectations sneak into our psyches, and even when we mean well, can be harmful if we are not mindful of them.

How might LGBTQ issues impact your workplace?

As with any HR topic, LGBTQ issues may arise in your workplace in a wide variety of ways:

  • Hiring issues (having to do with your perceptions or the candidate’s statements)
  • Coworker uncertainty or harassment
  • Gender-specific bathrooms
  • Dress code policies
  • Gender identity and pronoun usage
  • And more

Your response as a business owner or manager is critical. For example, at one business where a manager recently asked a transgender woman “What are you?” during her first day of work, and then proceeded to terminate her after she explained she was in transition, the business owner has just agreed to pay out an undisclosed amount in a major settlement.

Even without the termination, the manager’s “what are you / what am I supposed to do with you” reaction was hurtful and discriminatory. The problem is, you can’t expect anything different unless you train your managers. It’s up to employers to prepare your teams for how to handle these issues.

CEDR can answer your questions and help you stay legally compliant.

Having handbook policies and educational resources that help you deal with these types of issues is important in preventing incidents from occurring, supporting your management team, and protecting your practice. Please call CEDR Solutions at 866-414-6056 and let us help you navigate these new laws, starting with a review of your handbook to ensure you are protected.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.