How to Protect LGBTQIA+ Colleagues from Workplace Harassment
Published: Sep 18, 2023
Workplace harassment and violence disproportionately affect the LGBTQIA+ community. In the U.S., 46 percent of LGBTQIA+ employees have experienced unfair treatment in the workplace at some point in their careers, and 31 percent have been harassed or discriminated against within the last five years. We must take action to try to prevent harassment from happening—and respond appropriately when it does.
Below, we discuss ways to protect vulnerable employees and promote a more inclusive workplace culture.
Unique Workplace Challenges the LGBTQIA+ Community Faces
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community experience many obstacles that heterosexual employees don’t. The following are some of the most frequently cited ones:
- Whether to “come out” at work or keep their identity private
- Increased anxiety from trying to fit into a heteronormative space
- Fear of being “outed” by a colleague
- Microaggressions and gossip from coworkers
- Potential discrimination (being turned down for promotions, denied opportunities, etc.)
- Whether to speak out against microaggressions, discrimination, etc.
Many of these challenges and concerns will never cross a heterosexual worker’s mind. However, they come up frequently throughout a typical day for most LGBTQIA+ individuals.
What to Do When Bullying, Harassment, or Violence Occur
Bullying, harassment, and violence are never acceptable in the workplace (or anywhere). However, these issues still occur and are especially likely to affect LGBTQIA+ employees. Employers, human resource managers, and other leaders who learn of bullying, harassment, or violence should take the following steps to respond appropriately and stop the problem as quickly as possible:
- Listen to and believe employees coming forward about bullying, harassment, or violence
- Talk to other employees who may have witnessed the bullying, harassment, or violence
- Address the perpetrator and discipline them according to company-specific protocols
- Document the complaints, witness reports, disciplinary action, etc.
- Implement training to prevent future incidents of bullying, harassment, or violence.
Many LGBTQIA+ employees hesitate to report workplace harassment and other problems because they fear not being believed or supported. By taking the steps listed above, employers can demonstrate their allyship and create a safer workplace for all.
How Employers Can Protect Vulnerable Workers
In addition to responding promptly and professionally to complaints, employers and human resources managers can take additional steps to protect vulnerable workers, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Understand Legal Protections and Policies
Employers and employees alike must understand the specific legal protections and policies that have been created to protect the LGBTQIA+ community. The following are some examples of protections currently in place nationwide:
- Employers with at least 15 employees are prohibited (under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex. This ban includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Many states, including Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, New York, and Maine, have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Employers should do their own research to understand the laws and regulations in their state to ensure they’re compliant.
Provide Sensitivity Education
Sensitivity education helps to teach all employees and business owners how to ensure they abide by laws like those mentioned above and create a safe, supportive workplace for LGBTQIA+ employees. These training sessions also give participants an opportunity to ask questions and gain more understanding so they can empathize with their colleagues and correct potentially problematic behaviors.
Implement Clear Protocols
Employers should develop workplace safety and security protocols with LGBTQIA+ employees in mind. These protocols should include specific rules regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, as well as clear breakdowns about the consequences of breaking these rules (warnings, suspension, termination, etc.). Employers should also implement a transparent chain of command. That way, people will know whom to contact if they’ve been a victim of or witnessed homophobic or anti-LGBTQIA+ harassment. All of these protocols should be discussed during employee onboarding. Regular refreshers during employee training sessions help to keep everyone on the same page.
Tips for Promoting an Inclusive Workplace Culture and Empowering LGBTQIA+ Colleagues
Things like legal protections and transparent safety protocols are critical to a safe and inclusive workplace. However, there are other steps that everyone can take to contribute to a more empowering company culture for LGBTQIA+ employees, including these:
- Ask for people’s preferred pronouns (and use them, especially on things like name tags and email signatures)
- Create employee resource groups (ERGs) specifically for LGBTQIA+ employees
- Seek out other educational resources; don’t expect LGBTQIA+ employees to shoulder the burden of educating others on top of their full-time jobs.
Participation in local events, such as pride festivals or gender-affirming clothing drives, can also demonstrate allyship to employees and the community as a whole.
Yasmine Mustafa is the CEO & Co-Founder of ROAR, a technology company dedicated to cultivating safer workplaces. The company’s patented workplace panic button solution provides employees with one press of a button to protect your people, here and now.