There has been a tremendous amount of discussion this summer over the United State Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same sex marriage throughout the United States. You may not have considered how this decision could possibly affect your business. Your action or inaction, in light of this decision may place you directly in the line of fire of employment discrimination claims.
Although Nevada had previously recognized the right to marriage, the change in federal law means that additional laws and regulations may affect your business. There have been stories about bakeries and photographers getting into legal hot water for refusing to participate in the marriage celebrations. However, the challenges for all businesses have immediately become more substantial.
On the heels of the Supreme Court decision, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation is sex discrimination under federal law giving rise to your employee’s right to file a claim against you. Thus, something as simple as a form provided to your employee that offers benefits and identifies your employee’s beneficiary as a “husband” or a “wife,” an employee may claim that your failure to use more neutral terminology such as “spouse” can give rise to a claim of discrimination. Of course, the potential of claims against your business will not be limited to paperwork for benefits, but can appear as innocently as that.
The Supreme Court decision, the EEOC ruling, along with some collateral other decisions and regulations, show that there is a growing trend for the protection of LGBT workers. The limits of those protections will continue to be tested. It is important as you make hiring and firing decisions, that you take into account the ramifications of this growing trend. Your awareness must also include the policies and culture within your business to both protect your employees and protect your business.