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Supreme Court Ruling Extends Sex Based Protections to Non-Traditional Notions of Gender

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision stating that discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status is considered sex-based discrimination, and therefore prohibited under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. Employers should be aware that the opinion aligns with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) current Title VII enforcement policies. In addition, New York law specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Next Steps

All employers should consider taking the following actions to ensure they are creating a workplace that protects and welcomes all LGBTQ+ employees:

  • Ensure your written Equal Employment Opportunity and Non-Harassment/ Non-Discrimination policies incorporate protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and transgender status.
  • Create a welcoming workplace. Company leaders and human resources staff should become familiar with, and become comfortable using, the correct terminology and inclusive language, such as the use of proper pronouns. Leaders should ensure the company’s values include diversity and inclusion and these values are communicated by the highest leadership of the company in a manner that demonstrates full engagement and buy-in.
  • Ensure training materials and the content of any equal employment opportunity, non-harassment or non-discrimination training includes information and examples of prohibited harassment or discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Review your benefits policies to ensure they provide coverage equally, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or transgender status.
  • Review your dress code. Make sure it is gender-neutral and broad enough so employees of any gender feel comfortable physically presenting themselves in the workplace.
  • Incorporate best practices in your company procedures, such as offering all employees the option of adding pronouns to their email signatures, addressing employees by their preferred name and pronouns, using an employee’s preferred name on internal communications and company websites, and encouraging the use of inclusive, gender-neutral language in the workplace, such as “they or them” versus “he/she or him/her.”

HR Works Can Help

HR Works offers an Employee Handbook Service which allows clients to work with a Compliance Specialist on the development of an employee handbook that complies with federal and state law. HR Works also offers training on topics such as respect in the workplace and preventing workplace harassment and discrimination (which meets NY state’s mandatory sexual harassment training requirements). In person, webinar based, and LMS options are available. Employers who do not subscribe to the Helpline and would like more information on employee handbooks, training, or our Helpline Service may contact for a referral to a HR Works Business Development team member.

Subscribers of the HR Works Virtual Helpline may also contact a Compliance Specialist for questions related to discrimination or harassment, or for information on how to investigate claims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.