We Protect Workers

How can gay or lesbian workers fight harassment on the job?

Despite major changes in public policy, federal law and cultural attitudes, people attracted to the same sex still face a lot of hurdles in modern society. Gay men and lesbians alike can find themselves the target of ridicule by their co-workers or discrimination by their employers. 

According to a review of the discrimination that gay and lesbian employees face by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination based on sexual orientation has a root in the sex or gender-identity of the employee, which therefore makes it a violation of federal employment laws. 

What should you do when you have to endure mistreatment at work because of your sexual orientation? 

Document everything in detail

In order to prompt any sort of meaningful change, you will first have to convince others that your complaints have merit and are not frivolous. To do so, you generally need to show a pattern of behavior and provide specific examples of the mistreatment that you suffer. 

When a co-worker makes an inappropriate joke at your expense, you should write down the entire joke, as well as the name of the person who said it, the time they said it, the location where you overheard it and the date of the incident. The names of other people present, including those who laughed at the joke, could also help. 

Doing this for every microaggression that you endure on the job can seem repetitive, but it can be an efficient way to show a hostile work environment. 

Speak up if you have the opportunity to do so

Victim blaming is a common response to complaints of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. You should not have to summon the courage to reprimand those mistreating you or report them to have a safe workplace, but that is currently what our culture expects from workers if they can do so safely. 

While direct confrontation may be something you want to avoid, you still need to report the issue. If possible, make a report to human resources or management in compliance with any official policy they have on workplace discrimination. Document your attempt to report the issue and the company’s official response. If they don’t take steps to protect you, you may have to take further action. 

Don’t be afraid to pursue legal avenues for justice

You might worry that filing a civil lawsuit seems frivolous or even undermines the issue by making it seem like it is about money. However, finances are arguably the only language that businesses really understand.

Creating public awareness and possibly financial consequences for the company may be the best way to motivate a company with a hostile business culture to do better for its employees facing discrimination.