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Employers urged to be proactive in protecting LGBT workers' rights

Employers urged to be proactive in protecting LGBT workers' rights

ORLANDO, Fla. — Firms should create equal employment and anti-discrimination policies that include protections for employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity to help prevent discrimination complaints against companies, said Michael Cohen, a partner with Duane Morris L.L.P. law firm in Philadelphia.

Additionally, employers should address inappropriate behavior by employees that can be perceived as discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, even if such behavior is considered legal under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, Mr. Cohen said. He gave a presentation on recent legal developments affecting LGBT employees in the workforce during the Society for Human Resource Management's Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando.

When employees or supervisors make comments that stereotype LGBT employees — such as by stating that a person doesn't “sound gay” — it could allow LGBT workers to argue that such statements fit into a culture of sex discrimination violations under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mr. Cohen said.

While an isolated statement may not be enough to violate state and federal discrimination laws, and may not have been said with ill intent, Mr. Cohen said companies should address such behavior to create an inclusive corporate culture for LGBT workers.

“You take action when inappropriate conduct happens, irrespective of whether that inappropriate conduct is enough to create liability,” Mr. Cohen said. “You want your employees to understand this kind of intolerance, this type of inappropriate conduct simply won't be tolerated in your organization.”

Companies also can show inclusivity by offering benefits to same-sex spouses, civil union partners and domestic partners of employees, but Mr. Cohen advised companies to make sure their insurance policies support such policies.

“Make sure that the insurance company that you're working with actually provides domestic partner benefits because you don't want to start self-insuring people,” he said. “It would be a beautiful gesture on your part, but I'm guessing it's not something you want to do.”