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Consider Special Discretion for LGBTQ Workplace Romance Disclosures

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Asking employees to disclose a romantic relationship is a common requirement for companies that have policies on workplace romances. But what about members of the LGBTQ community who may not want people at work to know about their sexual orientation?

It’s a thorny issue, and experts agree that it’s wrong to out people who want to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity private. But legally, companies can’t have different rules for LGBTQ employees than they do for employees who do not identify as LGBTQ.

“You’ve got to walk a fine line. You can’t really come out and ask someone, ‘Are you gay?’ or ‘Are you in a relationship with Steve?’” says business attorney Matt Carter, who is gay. Carter says when he came out in the early 21st century, it wasn’t a big deal at his workplace, and he felt accepted.

But that's not the case for all LGBTQ employees.

A landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bostock v. Clayton County, held that gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals are protected against workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But Title VII applies only to companies with 15 or more employees. And it doesn't stop LGBTQ individuals from being subject to judgment or disdain from fellow workers.

A September 2021 study by UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute found that 46 percent of LGBTQ workers experienced some kind of unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives, and one in 10 had experienced discrimination at work in the previous year.


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So, what can companies do? Hold LGBTQ workers to the same standards and rules that all employees must follow, experts advise. But do so with the utmost discretion, says Sean Horan, a faculty member at Fairfield University who researches communication in dating relationships.

There are strict structures in place for other information, such as health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Horan notes. And while there may be no HIPAA-like law protecting disclosure of someone’s LGBTQ identity, it’s just the decent thing to do, he says.

Susan Milligan is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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