In a recent lawsuit backed by the Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a transgender woman secured a $115,000 settlement from her employer after being harassed, barred from using the correct restroom, prevented from changing her name and gender on employment records, and denied coverage for medically necessary procedures.
Same-sex marriage may be legal in the U.S., but there are plenty of places where Americans can still get fired for being gay or transgender. The fight for equality based on gender identity and sexual orientation has emerged as a new battleground for employment rights.
As that struggle plays out, many LGBT job seekers are hard-pressed to find work at employers that won't just honor their rights but welcome and support them. Here's a guide finding LGBT-friendly employers in that evolving landscape.
One of your first tactics should be looking for evidence of employers that already have diverse workforces—and want you to know about it. Check companies' published mission statements and assess their overall public profile. Look for the organizations and charities they support. Survey the uppermost ranks of management for minorities and women.
You should also check the type of communication the company shares on its website and on social media. Does the employer explicitly convey pride in being inclusive and respectful of all the people it employs and the customers it serves? Larger companies in urban areas may naturally be more diverse since they're able draw from a wider talent pool. But employers that truly value diversity usually want to make that pretty clear no matter where they're located.
In addition to looking into how a company represents itself, do your research in other sources, too. Check trade journals and publications to see how the employer has been covered in the press. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation also publishes a Corporate Equality Index highlighting LGBT-friendly employers. Look to see how an employer you're considering stacks up.
You should also run a few Google searches into the employer's litigation history. If the company has been involved in any lawsuits over employment issues, that may be a red flag.
Employers that are rightly proud of their commitment to diversity hold themselves out as "equal employment opportunity" employers. For those that do, you can usually find a note to this effect in job listings, promotional material for job seekers, and on the company's website.
Seek out companies with zero-tolerance policies for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by reviewing company handbooks and policies. If you can't get your hands on those resources through the HR department, ask about the training opportunities available to employees and supervisors on diversity issues. It's also important to look into whether a company has a reasonable accommodation policy and how it responds to accommodation requests.
The point is that an employer needs to back up its public brand with concrete policies it sticks to.
A company that's LGBT-friendly and diverse will often pride itself on offering benefits that appeal to a wide variety of employees. Those might include comprehensive health care coverage—including coverage for same-sex spouses or partners—as well as different types of leave, such as paid family leave, maternity leave, paternity leave, and paid sick leave.
Some companies have specific employee resource or affinity groups geared toward LGBT employees, offering in-house opportunities to meet and network with each other and discuss common workplace challenges. These groups can further serve as a way to reduce feelings of isolation, reduce turnover, increase employee engagement. They can also serve as safe havens to air grievances and discuss any issues arising with coworkers or supervisors. Employees can trade valuable advice with those who might've experienced similar issues and pick up some practical solutions.
There's one important caveat here, though: In job applications and during interviews, LGBT candidates should make sure to focus on their unique talents, skills, and qualifications—there's no reason or need to divulge gender identity or sexual orientation. An individual’s decision to come out should be on their own terms—especially at a time when legal protections for these categories are far from universal and disclosure can open you up to discrimination. This is something LGBT-friendly employers are sensitive to and should always understand and respect.
So if you're reluctant to share this type of information—for any reason at all—but still want to learn more about an employer's approach to LGBT employees, ask more general questions about benefits, EEO policies, and diversity initiatives, then see how the answers you get square with the rest of your research.
Fortunately, employers are increasingly recognizing the need to be inclusive of all types of employees during the hiring process—as just one way to attract and retain top talent in a job market where that's arguably getting harder to do. For LGBT job seekers, the clues you're looking for are for the most part closer to hand than they've ever been. And the easier they are to find, the better the indication that you've located an LGBT-friendly employer.
Beth P. Zoller is the legal editor for the discrimination, affirmative action, harassment, retaliation, employee privacy, and employee handbooks/work rules/employee conduct content in the employee management section of XpertHR.