Workplace Discrimination

At a glance:

  • In the majority of states (28), it is legal to fire a worker for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.*
  • Pride at Work supports a federal ban on discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, such as the Equality Act.
  • Union contracts are legally enforceable in every state. An inclusive union contract (one that includes non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression) can serve as legal protection for LGBTQ working people.

Union contracts can prevent discrimination and lead to stability for LGBTQ working people. If your union contract has a non-discrimination clause on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, you have legal protection in the case of discrimination. Unions must enforce these clauses and create environments where LGBTQ members feel comfortable bringing reports of discrimination to union leaders.

We know that LGBTQ people face various forms of discrimination in the workplace. Union non-discrimination clauses can protect from:

  • Firing
    • According to the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey on American social trends done by the University of Chicago, 16 percent of LGB respondents reported ever having lost a job because of their sexuality.[1]
    • Meanwhile, 16% of transgender respondents to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 US Transgender Survey (USTS) also reported having lost a job in their lifetime because of their gender identity or expression.
  • Denying promotions or not hiring
    • 18% percent of LGB respondents had experienced employment discrimination in applying for and/or keeping a job because of their sexual orientation. (GSS)
    • 30% of transgender respondents to the USTS reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not hired for a job because of their gender identity or expression.
  • Verbal, physical, and sexual harassment
    • 35 percent of LGB respondents to the GSS reported ever having been harassed at work. Fifty-eight percent reported hearing derogatory comments about sexual orientation and gender identity in their workplaces.
    • 15% of respondents to the USTS who held a job in that year were verbally harassed, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted.
  • Unsafe or inaccessible bathrooms
    • 59% of respondents to US Transgender Survey avoided using a public restroom in the last year, and nearly one third (32%) limited the amount they ate and drank to do so.
  • Inadequate healthcare coverage
    • LGBTQ people may have different healthcare needs from their straight coworkers. Union negotiated health plans must meet the needs of their LGBTQ members, from covering gender transition-related care to covering HIV prevention and treatment.
  • Benefit sharing based on outdated definitions of family
    • Many union-negotiated employee benefits, such as healthcare and leave policies, are based on a legal definition of marriage and family. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, many LGBTQ families – among others – are not based around marriage for a variety of reasons. We must expand our definition of family to include the many variations that exist both through blood and
  • Fear of coming out
    • According to the GSS, one third (33 percent) of LGB employees were not open about being LGB to anyone in the workplace. A staggering 53% of respondents to the USTS who had a job in the past year reported hiding their gender identity at work to avoid discrimination.
  • Delays in resolving conflicts
    • An inclusive union contract is a legally enforceable document that provides an LGBTQ employee with explicit timelines to solve instances of discrimination through the grievance procedure.
  • Lack of representation
    • Unions provide lawyers and/or arbitrators during disciplinary actions as well as grievances to ensure the employer follows the letter of the contract and treats all employees

What can labor do?

  • A collective bargaining agreement is enforceable in every state. We can protect our members by ensuring our contracts have strong non-discrimination language that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
  • In many communities, labor’s voice is powerful. When our leaders speak out publicly against the conditions their fellow members face at work, it can have a dramatic impact on the lives of their members. We must stand up and speak out for our LGBTQ members.
  • Labor’s legislative advocacy is in support of our members’ needs. It is vital that we add LGBTQ non-discrimination to our legislative portfolios in every lawmaking body where we have a voice. Labor has legislative advocates – both paid and volunteer – in every state and there are LGBTQ members in every union.
  • Pride at Work staff is always ready to provide support on this or other LGBTQ-related topics. We can help ensure your contract language is inclusive of LGBTQ working people and uses the most up to date language. We can also review talking points to help hone your message when talking to the media or lobbying state and local government. Other resources include: trainings for leadership, staff, or rank-and-file members; convention, conference, or meeting speakers and panelists; and much more.

A printable, PDF version of this document can be found here.

[1] GSS Numbers are reprinted from Jennifer C. Pizer, Brad Sears, Christy Mallory, and Nan D. Hunter, Evidence of Persistent and Pervasive Workplace Discrimination Against LGBT People: The Need for Federal Legislation Prohibiting Discrimination and Providing for Equal Employment Benefits, 45 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 715 (2012)

* Note: Recent developments in case law have expanded the definition of sex discrimination to cover transgender workers, but this is still a gray area of the law.