Recognizing LGBT workplace rights: Is your business prepared?

By Susan Keating Anderson

Diverse handsEverywhere you look lately, LGBT rights are making headlines. States as diverse as Wisconsin, Texas, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas have been in the news for their legislative attempts to either increase or limit the rights of LGBT citizens. 

At a national level, there have been some major changes regarding LGBT rights. Earlier this year, the U.S. government expanded the rights of same-sex spouses in federal legal matters, and last year a U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had blocked federal recognition of gay marriages. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on March 14, 2014, that, under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies who offer benefits to opposite sex spouses must offer such benefits to same-sex spouses by Jan. 1, 2015.   

In Ohio in December 2013, a federal judge ordered authorities to recognize gay marriages on death certificates, despite Ohio’s ban against same-sex marriages. In April 2014, a federal judge ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and state lawmakers recently withdrew legislation mimicking a controversial Arizona bill proposing to allow those who assert religious beliefs to refuse service to LGBT community members. 
 
Despite this changing landscape of LGBT rights in other contexts, little has changed in federal or Ohio employment discrimination laws as it relates to LGBT employees. Despite this, some Ohio employers may elect to institute changes in their company policies regarding LGBT employees. Ways employers can address LGBT rights include:

  • Learning what laws currently apply. The reach of federal law is evolving quickly in this area, and a handful of Ohio municipalities already ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in certain contexts. Employers should consult legal counsel to find out what laws apply.
  • Reviewing current policies to determine where LGBT rights might be appropriately included. For instance, an employer with an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement or policy may consider including a statement prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. Such a statement might also be incorporated into sexual harassment, workplace violence and anti-discrimination policies.
  • Training employees, supervisors and subordinates alike (but in different training sessions), on the revised policies. 

Many Ohio employers have determined that discrimination of any kind can detract from employee morale, recruitment and retention, and, ultimately, productivity. As employers have discovered over time, the best business and employment decisions are based on objective metrics and operational needs.

Susan Keating Anderson is a partner in the Cleveland-area law firm, Walter | Haverfield LLP.

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