Q: Our business operates in a state that just legalized same-sex marriage. Discrimination in employment against gays and lesbians has been prohibited here for years. Does the new marriage law affect our business?
A: Maybe. Benefits are probably affected, so check with your benefits manager or TPA to make sure that changes in state and federal law relating to same sex-marriage are understood and reflected in your plans. Read this for a good overview of the topic. Next, take a look at your policies and the materials that are given out to employees. Do they refer to married couples or spouses in a way that excludes same-sex spouses? What about company-sponsored traditions and events? Are they based on the assumption that all marriages are opposite-sex marriages? Although it may not be necessary to make changes immediately, or all at once, you may want to phase in policies, materials, and events that are equally suitable for all employees, regardless of whether they are in opposite-sex or same-sex marriages. It’s also a good idea to remind employees that negative or harassing comments about same-sex marriage are unacceptable in the workplace – just as comments about sexual orientation would be. Same-sex marriage is a controversial topic, and your employees may hold deeply-felt opposing views about it, but you have a responsibility to provide a workplace reasonably free of discrimination and harassment.
A postscript: Are you sure that the law in your state only protects gays and lesbians? Some states have laws that also protect bisexual and transgender individuals, or that protect individuals from discrimination based on “gender identity.” Make certain that you’re familiar with the scope of protections in your state.Posted by: Kate Bischoff