Some LGBTQ+ individuals struggle with deciding to disclose their sexual orientation at work. Ultimately, you do not have to disclose your orientation to a boss or any coworker. When it comes to your personal life, you decide what details you want to share. But there are some strategies you can use to come out at work, should you wish to do so. Furthermore, there are laws and policies pertaining specifically to LGBTQ+ employment that protect the queer community.
Gauging Company Culture and Diversity in the Workplace
Many people in the queer community tend to be conservative with the disclosure of their orientation at work. A queer person might not disclose their orientation because they worry how co-workers might react. It can be especially hard if you work in an environment where it’s unclear if the culture values diversity in the workplace.
In these scenarios, a common tactic is to investigate the opinions of your co-workers before you disclose your orientation. You can by bring up popular news stories related to the topic and gauge people’s reactions.
Often, an individual considering coming out at work might confide in a small number of co-workers—their “work friends.” Then, they can either leave the process there or slowly come out in waves, person by person. This can help the individual to create a support system at work. Support is especially valuable in situations where coming out might be met with unease. Sometimes, individuals who come out might even be met with harassment or aggression from others in the workplace. The potential for this type of treatment is why support systems are crucial in the workplace.
How Can You Be Outed at Work?
There can be certain scenarios out of your control that might cause you to be outed at work. For example, at work functions where employees bring their partners as plus-ones, you may find yourself in a bind. In this instance, you might have to decide between coming out by bringing your partner, attending alone, or avoiding the event entirely.
Another common way your sexual orientation may be disclosed to your boss is when you apply for health benefits.
Once same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, same-sex couples became entitled to the same marital rights as heterosexual couples. Today, same-sex couples are entitled to the marital rights associated with health coverage, life insurance, and pension programs.
If such benefits are offered by your employer and can be extended to your partner, you will likely have to provide your partner’s information in the application. This instance is another example of how you can be outed in the work place.
Facing Discrimination at Work
LGBTQ+ people worry about their rights at work. President Clinton made an executive order in 1995, Executive Order 12968, which included “sexual orientation” for the first time in non-discrimination language. In 2014, President Obama amended previous executive orders to include the protection of non-heterosexual people from discrimination at work. Despite these executive orders, recent administrative policies might be weakening those protections.
For example, in March 2017, the Trump administration rescinded President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. The order made it easier for businesses (who receive federal contracts) to avoid reporting how they comply with labor and civil rights laws. It is speculated that these regulations can affect equal pay initiatives for women and certain protections of LGBT people in workplaces.
In the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief to the court of appeals. The brief argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which pertains to workplace discrimination) doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The DOJ argued that the protections only extend to sex discrimination where men and women are not treated equally. However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interprets Title VII as forbidding any discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The EEOC enforces those regulations on all private sector employers.
So far, the EEOC’s protections supersede any contrary state or local laws. Furthermore, the commission’s reach extends past the private sector in the form of various hearings and appeals to protect LGBT employees in the federal sector. This means that, for the time being, it is likely that an employer discriminating against LGBT employees in any sector will be held accountable.
Staying in the Know
In any event, the current state of the law protects LGBT employees from discrimination and guarantees their right to privacy. This means that what you choose to share about your sexual orientation with co-workers and employers is up to you. But it’s still a good idea to keep yourself informed about how LGBT Law may or may not be changing.
Do you have anything to add about coming out at work?