“Can I be fired for being gay?”
That is one of the recent searches last week on Google that led a visitor to my blog. I’m sad for that employee and others who cannot be themselves at work gay, straight, or otherwise. I’m sad that someone felt compelled to search for answers on such a personal topic on the internet. I’m even more sad and disappointed in the managers and our corporate leaders who often make these employee’s life a living hell. I’m thankful, however, that I’ve written about the subject of being gay at work or even transgender at work in the past. It’s important to talk about these topics because not many will. It’s something I will continue to do as these blogs serve as an opportunity for employees to read, research, and experiment before they have a conversation with their own boss or HR.
Discrimination Against Gays
A couple years into my HR career, Jack came into my office. He was a retail manager and a former football player. He was a real man’s man who motivated his employees through threats and intimidation. We often butted heads as my motivation and communication methods were fluffy, warm, and fuzzy according to him. In short, he was pretty much a sucky boss, and I felt for his staff, but as a HR Manager, there is only so much a girl can do.
Jack walks into the office and slowly shuts the door. He whispers quietly after looking over his shoulder, “Robert is gay. He just got married to Adam this weekend in Colorado. Susan just told me.”
I think to myself, where the hell did this come from?
“I want to fire them. I can’t have them working on my team especially together. Can you find a way to make it happen? There’s gotta be a policy against this,” questions Jack.
I’m pretty sure I looked up from my computer in disbelief with my mouth wide the frick open, and I said to Jack, “You can’t fire them for being gay. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t discriminate against an employee for being gay. Good grief.”
Textual Harassment & Hostile Work Environment
And yet here we are nearly 10 years later from the very scenario I described above and someone is searching on google for almost that exact phrase still today. Maybe they are just researching the waters about coming out at work or maybe they are involved in a workplace shit storm kind of situation. Either way, this is still happening.
We didn’t fire Jack’s employees, and I suggested that he attend sensitivity training and had a strong conversation with my boss about whether or not Jack was fit to be a manager. I believe he got off easy having to read a book about motivating and relating to your employees, but there really wasn’t much I could do. Back then, I didn’t have this blog. Well, there is something I can do now.
For those employees or managers that are faced with situations like the one I described above, you need to know the following:
You are under no obligation to provide your employer with information about your sexual orientation. This is none of their business. You have a right to live your own life outside of work. If asked, politely tell the manager, you are not comfortable with answering the question. End of discussion.
You have a right to be free from harassment. This goes without saying and yet a recent study suggests that workplace bullying and hostile work environment harassment is on the rise. This type of harassment comes in many forms with textual or text harassment accounting for 23% of all of workplace harassment. This includes email, text messages, and other forms of technology.
Being gay will not make me or you a less productive employee. Unfortunately, I have heard this one before. You come to work. You do a job, and you do it to the best of your ability. End of story. Being gay doesn’t change your level of productivity at work.
Domestic partners aren’t eligible for benefits at my company. This is not always the case so check with your HR or benefits person at your organization. Many companies are beginning to offer domestic partner healthcare and dental benefits. Be advised that if a state doesn’t recognize gay marriage as a civil union, different tax laws apply.
You might be reading this and be offended, and frankly, I am okay with that possibility. But imagine having to come to work everyday fearful of losing your job, being threatened or intimidated by others. That is something I wish on no one. No one should be fired from their job for being gay or made to feel uncomfortable at work.
Have a boss or co-worker who needs a gentle reminder about this topic described above? Print off this blog and anonymously send it to them via interoffice mail. They just might read this and begin to get the message.
**8/11/12 Update: One of our commenters below, provided a pdf as a reference which includes the employment law in the US when it comes to the LGBT community and states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at work. Click here (and thanks Kasie!).