If your workplace anti-discrimination policies don’t include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees, it’s time to revamp.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Whether it also protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation is still up for debate—but a recent ruling by a federal appeals court in New York has concluded that it does.
If that’s not enough to convince you to revisit your company policies, then consider the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) is increasing its focus on safeguarding LGBT employees from discrimination, notes human resources (HR) expert Dr. Susan Strauss. In an audio conference for AudioSolutionz, “LGBT Inclusion in the Workplace: Navigate the Policies, Procedures & Practices,” Strauss explains how to make your workplace more inclusive—and, importantly, protect your company from a damaging LGBT discrimination lawsuit.
Mistreatment Is More Pervasive Than You Think
Some surveys have found that an astounding 90 percent of transgender and 40 percent of LGB employees experience workplace discrimination.
If you aren’t convinced, consider these sobering statistics from Out & Equal Workplace Advocates 2017 Workplace Equality:
- One in four LGBT employees report experiencing employment discrimination in the last five years.
- Nearly one in 10 LGBT employees have left a job because the environment was unwelcoming.
- More than three-quarters of transgender employees take steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace.
- The transgender unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average.
- 8 percent of LGBT employees report that discrimination negatively affected their work environment.
5 Steps to Create An Accepting Climate
You must create a stable workplace climate and culture for all employees—including LGBT employees—in order to foster an environment of acceptance where all employees feel safe. Every baby step you take toward inclusion will benefit your organization in the long run. Here are a few strategies you can implement for inclusion improvement:
- Examine your benefits. Do your health benefits, family leave policies, and other perks specifically include LGBT employees? If not, look for ways to do so. While many policies are controlled by the exterior benefit provider, you can inquire if the provider offers LGBT-friendly plans that you can incorporate.
- Watch your language. When sending out memos for corporate functions, make sure you use inclusive language for employees’ significant others. For example, consider “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” and “wife.”
- Vary your community outreach. Aim for diversity when putting forth your corporate sponsorship. Children’s hospitals, United Way, and other non-profit organizations are great causes, but don’t neglect supporting and participating in LGBT-sponsored community events.
- Push anti-discrimination. Make it a corporate policy to not discriminate against LGBT employees, and have all employees sign the policy documentation. Offer diversity and inclusion training for new hires and also periodically for all employees.
- Create a task force. Designate a team of employees consisting of LGBTs and “allies” (i.e., supportive non-LGBT employees) to spearhead fostering inclusion. Have the task force serve as a liaison with those who feel discriminated against, and observe and critique employee behavior in regards to inclusion. The team can also brainstorm policy/culture reform ideas unique to your specific organization.
Anti-Discrimination Has Its (Beyond Legal) Benefits
You risk more than a lawsuit if you don’t nip discrimination in the bud. Fostering an inclusive work environment can also improve your employee recruitment and retention efforts, as well as boost profits.
Earn a good reputation: A Center For Talent Innovation infographic illustrates that 72 percent of allies say they’re more likely to accept a job at a company that’s supportive of LGBT employees, and 71 percent of individuals and 82 percent of allies say they’re more likely to purchase a good or service from a company that supports LGBT equality.
Of course, not all LGBT-related workplace discrimination issues are straight forward to correct. For example, some employees may be uncomfortable with transgender restrooms. Knowing the right way to handle bathroom-access issues—as well as other tricky issues such as dress codes and guidelines for transitioning employees—is imperative if you want to limit your liability exposure and create a happier, more productive workplace, Strauss emphasizes.