The summer of 2015 will be remembered as a historic, watershed season in the fight for equality for all American citizens. In the span of two months, two federal rulings were made on the subject of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. In June, in the historic case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage for same-sex couples. In July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of “sex-based considerations,” which includes an employee’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
What do these rulings mean for your workplace policies?
- Benefits. In terms of benefits, same-sex married couples must now be granted the same Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) benefits as heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples must also be granted the same health insurance benefits as heterosexual married couples, and the same domestic partner benefits as unmarried heterosexual couples. However, if employers do not offer spousal benefits to heterosexual couples, they don’t need to offer them to same-sex couples. The federal ruling only extends to same-sex couples if the company has a spousal benefits policy in place.
Company culture. Company leadership should encourage a culture of acceptance, not only with regard to sexual orientation, but also concerning gender identity, race, religion, etc. This includes:
- Addressing the issue of acceptance in diversity training programs
- Establishing a clear policy prohibiting negative remarks about sexual orientation
- Creating an HR department that employees can feel comfortable approaching with any complaints of harassment
- Implementing a discipline policy for employees who do not follow company rules.
- Review of plans, policies and forms. HR should review their company’s benefits plans and policies to make sure that they are in compliance with the new laws. If they are not, the company must make the appropriate changes. On company forms, references to spouses being of the “opposite sex” will need to be adjusted. Employers should also review payroll procedures to ensure that the proper federal aid and state taxes comply with same-sex spousal benefits.
Transgender Rights Also Protected
Included in Title VII of the EEOC’s new ruling is that discrimination based on the gender of an employee constitutes illegal sex discrimination, which means that transgender employees cannot be fired, refused a job, passed on for a promotion or harassed due to their gender identity or expression. Even if discrimination laws have not been passed at a state level, the EEOC trumps all as it is a federal ruling.
Harassment of transgender employees can include making jokes or derogatory comments about transgender people, intentionally using the wrong name or pronoun, asking disrespectful questions or making transgender employees use a separate restroom from other employees. (Transgender employees must be allowed to use their gender-appropriate facilities in the workplace.)
Are Your Company’s Policies Updated?
If your company’s policies are not updated or if your company practices homosexual or transgender discrimination, you can be sued by the employee, as happened in this case. If you are not sure whether your company’s policies and forms have been updated, contact us today. Corporate Financial can make sure that the benefits you are offering are in compliance with federal law, avoiding future trouble for both your company and valued employees.