Sexual Orientation in the Workplace

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the role of sexual orientation in the workplace

A transfeminine non-binary person and transmasculine gender-nonconforming person look at each other on a couchEven though talking about your personal life is accepted in many workplaces, it is not always an all-inclusive invitation. People with a variety of sexual orientations may not be comfortable sharing information about their personal life for fear that they will be treated differently because of it. That brings us to the topic of sexual orientation discrimination. So what is it exactly? Sexual orientation discrimination is when someone is treated differently or even harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Let’s examine what being “treated differently” would look like. Being treated differently would include but is not limited to not getting promoted, receiving multiple coachings or write-ups with little to no justification, wrongful termination, etc. Harassment is another form of discrimination people face at work. Harassment in any form is not acceptable by society’s standards. However, there are not universal laws in place to protect people from sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

As we have discussed earlier in this module, organizations such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ensure discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information is not tolerated. Sex in this case includes pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation (EEOC). However, the EEOC is not able to enforce these laws with all companies. Instead, some companies are not covered under the EEOC, and people trying to file a complaint need to look to their state for other anti-discrimination laws to use to support their claim.

There are currently 23 states and Washington D.C. that have explicit state laws in place to ensure discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited. On the other hand, there are 26 states with no laws in place to protect people from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination (Wisconsin prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation but does not mention gender identity). For a more detailed list on which states have anti-discrimination laws in place, you can check out the Movement Advancement Project here.

PRactice Question

So what can people do to prevent discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation? As with every form of discrimination, the best way to circumvent it is by approaching every individual with respect. Treating others as you would like to be treated is such an elementary rule but it can have a great impact on building better relationships and healthier work environments.


“Coverage of Business/Private Employers.” US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Accessed April 22, 2019.

“Sexual Orientation Discrimination.” Workplace Fairness. Accessed April 22, 2019.


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