Can LGBT workers be terminated?

Although most Americans believe that it is illegal to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation, only 21 states, including Wisconsin, have made it illegal for employers to do so. Even in some states where employees cannot be fired on that basis, some small businesses are exempt. In some cases, a company may need to have 15 or more employees before that rule takes effect.

Large cities in states that do not have bans against firing employees for their sexual orientation have banned the practice within city limits. Those who work in cities such as Cincinnati, Phoenix or Philadelphia cannot be fired solely based on their sexual orientation. In areas where no ban is in effect, an employee may be able to take legal action against an employer if that employee is part of a union. This action would be taken under the cause clause that most unions have in their contract.

Federal government workers and contract workers doing business with the federal government do not have to worry about getting fired because they are homosexual or because they are transgendered. Executive orders have directed federal agencies to promote workplaces that are non-discriminatory against LGBT workers. President Obama has recently announced that he plans on signing an executive order that would bar companies contracting with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Employers are required to create a safe workplace for all employees. Workers who feel as if they have been exposed to sexual harassment, bullying or discrimination based on their gender, age or appearance may wish to talk to an employment law attorney as soon as possible. It may be possible to take legal action against an employer to receive compensation for back pay and other damages.

Source: Businessweek, “Most Americans Think It’s Illegal to Fire Someone for Being Gay. They’re Wrong“, Josh Eidelson, June 23, 2014

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