sexual orientation

How to Respond to Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Office

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

Federal and state laws include a concept known as “protected classes.” If an employee is part of a protected class, their membership in that class can’t be used to discriminate against them. This prevents employees from being fired from or denied jobs based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Some classes are protected federally, while others are only protected at the state level. If you are part of a class only protected at the state level, you will be protected in some states but not in others.

Sexual orientation is one of those classes that is only protected at the state level. Thus, if you are discriminated against at work based on your sexual orientation, you can only take legal action if you work in specific states.

Sexual Orientation Protections in New Jersey

New Jersey is one of the states that fully protects sexual orientation. Furthermore, it recently added gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected classes. This means that an employer can’t try to get around the protection by targeting a different protected class.

What does it mean to be protected?

If you belong to a protected class, you have the right to certain protections at work. For instance, an employer is prohibited from using your membership in the protected class as a reason to:

  • Hire or not hire you
  • Fire you
  • Determine your pay or eligibility for raises
  • Promote you or refuse to promote you
  • Deny work opportunities, including things like remote work
  • Deny vacation days

Each workplace is required to have written policies enforcing these prohibitions against discrimination. This ensures that no one at the workplace violates them.

But can’t employers fire anyone they want, regardless of the reason? Yes and no. An employer doesn’t need a reason to fire an employee. However, if their reason is that the employee is a member of a protected class — and this can be proved — they are breaking the law.

Employers Must Also Protect Employees from Harassment

It isn’t enough for your employer alone to avoid discriminating against you. Your employer also can’t turn a blind eye if you are being discriminated against by a fellow employee or middle manager.

Everyone who works for the company is bound by workplace discrimination rules. Suppose that another employee is regularly harassing you due to your sexual orientation. If your employer doesn’t act to prevent the discrimination you’re facing, they are as guilty of harassment as the person directly harassing you.

Retaliation Is Also Discrimination

Once you report sexual orientation discrimination of any sort, you are protected from retaliation by state law. Your employer is not permitted to respond to your report by:

  • Demoting you
  • Docking your pay
  • Transferring you to another position
  • Giving you a demerit or otherwise noting that you did something wrong
  • Firing you

All too often, when a person reports that they are being harassed or discriminated against by a boss or co-worker, the company responds with additional harassment. This is why you should hire an attorney as soon as you suffer any sexual orientation harassment.

Prevent Sexual Orientation Discrimination by Consulting with an Employment Law Attorney

New Jersey protects employees from suffering sexual orientation discrimination. But even though the state has strong anti-discrimination laws, many employers still find ways around them. If you are being discriminated against, you need experienced lawyers who will help defend your rights.

Contact the employment law attorneys at NJ Employment Lawyers, LLC today if you need to file a lawsuit or report sexual orientation discrimination in your New Jersey workplace.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.