Can I Be Fired for Being Gay?

“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!).  

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Comments

  1. It’s a shame the answer has to be so complicated. Even here in Canada, the right to freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is assured but not guaranteed. But I love the post!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Paul. This needs to be said. No one talks about the scenario I describe above because people know that it is wrong, and it still happens anyway.

      Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      JMM

      Reply
  2. I have spent many of my formative years in retail, in sales, in management and the like. Even now as I try to begin a new career in the Social Media field with a side-order of Social Work, it always amazes me that the more things change; the more they stay the same… That is to say, if something/someone is different there has to be something wrong. It has been my experience that the company life flows better if you base employees on that; and not the activities they enjoy in their home life. You hired that particular person to fill a particular need in the company structure, so unless you made an error in hiring and it is costing your company money; leave the matter be. Individuals are just that, and deserve respect in the workplace the same as the supervisor or the person in HR who is signing the cheques. You want the best team available, not the best team of clones available (as most bosses think no one can do the job as well as they could.) Thanks Jessica, for showing once again why variety in the workplace can be a valued commodity . :D

    Reply
    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the comment. I want to try to be as transparent as possible saying that these things still happen. Companies sweep these things under the rug. They laugh them off and give their manager a book assignment hoping that the discrimination goes away. But with the recent Chick-Fil-A media frenzy and the gay employees who work there, I wonder if they are proud to work at a company that doesn’t support them.

      JMM

      Reply
  3. great post – my favorite line: “You have a right to live your own life outside of work”

    I think at my company we’ve made it to a level of acceptance, but I’m not sure we are at what could be our best.

    Laurel |
    Reply
  4. I am very glad to see this post on your blog. It is a horrible fact that the LGBT community still has to face these concerns.
    I think it is important to point out that while many companies have non-discrimination policies and practices that include sexual orientation, over half of the states in our country do not have any legal protections for LGBT people against discrimination and harrassment. Below is map of the US showing which states have legal protections and which do not. (updated June 2012, Human Rights Campaign)

    http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Employment_Laws_and_Policies.pdf

    When someone has concerns for the security of their job if they were to be open about being LGBT, it is important to understand your workplace policies as well as your state laws and protections.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to peoples attention.

    Kasie |
    Reply
    • Hi Kasie,

      Thank you for this information. I’m not a legal expert on the subject, and if you are okay, I would like to include this link in the post suggesting that readers go there for more information just in case they don’t scroll all the way down to the comment section and miss out on your information.

      Appreciate chiming in and your insights.

      JMM

      Reply
  5. I was with you all the way until the last paragraph. Look, people don’t have to support gay marriage, and they are free to believe in a religion that teaches homosexuality is a sin, but if their sensibilities are so delicate that the mere *discussion* of homosexuals in the workplace offends them, that is their problem, and they need to wake up and smell the 21st century. Also, I’ve got news for anyone who doesn’t think they could work with gay people: the odds are overwhelming that you already do.

    (Re-reading your last paragraph, I now realize you may have been saying you didn’t care if your post offended people, not that you understood why people might be offended. If so, then we’re on the same page.)

    Reply
    • Hi Greg,

      Exactly my point. I just want to get the conversation out there because the situation I described above is still happening even today. This post isn’t about my point of view (although I am supportive of people having a right to be themselves). I just think it’s ridiculous that managers would even pose the question with their HR person and also very sad that someone would have to search for answers or resources on Google for this.

      JMM

      Reply
  6. Again, Jessica hits a strong nerve with this post.

    These are things that are on everybody’s minds but no one really wants to talk about it. Well, they may want to talk about it, but they certainly don’t want to listen – to either side!

    I don’t think I have ever witnessed such great division surrounding a topic before. It makes me angry – but as you have probably witnessed, as well – it makes EVERYONE angry. Neither side is accepting or tolerating. It is hard to preach acceptance and tolerance if you display neither. I don’t know how each side will find the same path forward but I hope they do, this divides us and hurts us as humans. No doubt.

    Ray_anne |
    Reply
  7. I’m glad this post exists, but I don’t see the question answered – can I be fired for being gay? The answer should be in the first paragraph: Yes, in the U.S., in 29 states, you can be fired for being gay.

    Bernadette |
    Reply
  8. I started watching a talk show that was already in progress when a gentlemen stated he was afraid to say that he was a gay man because in his state he could be fired from his job for being gay. I didn’t hear the state he was from. I was shocked. I wanted more information. My god am I really this ignorant or naive. There are 29 states where u can be fired because of sexual orientation and 34 states because of their gender identity. I am sooo angry that you can be fired for being LGBT but not if your heterosexual. Okay, NO ONE should have the right to fire someone over their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation has NO BARRING on how a person does their job. I am heterosexual. So What!! That doesn’t make me better than ANYONE or a “more suitable” employee. My job should be secure because I am a good employee and I do my job well and NOT because of my sexual preference. I truly believe hate comes from insecurities and ignorance. People spend too much time hating other people because of their differences. Haven’t we learned anything yet. What comes from hate…. slavery, the holocaust, 911. I am ashamed to say I thought there was a law that covered EVERYONE’S basic civil rights. As long as there are people like YOU and you know who you are… the “haters” and “bullies” that innocent people need protection from through laws such as a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that MUST be passed. I thank every honest and loving voice that fights to be heard that give tirelessly of themselves helping to make things better for everyone. I have to say, I grew up in the 70′s and it was very common to say “oh, that’s so gay”. Well, one day I happened to say that’s gay. My daughter said omg MOM do you know what you just said! I thought for a sec and said “um, yeah it’s nerdy”. No mom, no. When you make a reference to something using those words, you are making a derogatory remark against a gay person. I thought my god how dumb am I. It was so common as a child I never gave it a thought even as I got older. My naivety is no excuse. I need to be responsible for my words and THINK before I speak. I think it’s just to easy to throw words out with little regard to how those words can affect another. Remember it takes much more energy to hate than to love. Anne Frank wrote….And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!

    stephanie |
    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Stephanie. It makes me sad how many people search for the phrase on google, “Can I Be Fired for Being Gay?” I can see the analytics as far as who links to my blog and it should not be happening.

      JMM

      Reply
  9. In Canada if you experience homophobia at work and there is no HR at your office, you can call the HR Board of Canada. However, they will suggest you ‘get another job ‘, and that the harasser can ‘just claim ignorance. ‘ aka, they get off the hook for being ‘ignorant’.
    The best bet (if you are Canadian) is to ALWAYS work at an office with HR. HR Canada will not help and frankly can be quite ignorant and homophobic with their answers as well.

    Reply
  10. I’ve had few serious arguments with my boss who suffered homophobia too. I left after six months of constant confrontations without any serious cause. I thought there is no way I could have problem to get employed anywhere else, because I have an excelent education, a number of certifications and I thought I knew “those right people” from whom I expected helping hand. But things gone pretty wrong. I had a serious problem finding appropriate employer for almost two years so I turned to http://mcroygroup.com/ even though my scepticism linked with personal agencies. Their open minded approach brought me back my confidence and I finally found the perfect position in a company where I am completely satisfied. Besides the fact I found a love of my life there also :) wish you same lucky, guys

    Cyril Kramar |
    Reply
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  12. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was doing a
    little research on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner because I found it for him.
    .. lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this topic here on your site.

    Reply
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    Reply

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