LGBTQ Workplace Issues

It is Worldpride Week in Toronto, the first Worldpride celebration held in North America and one of the largest in the world of its kind.  The festival touts itself as honouring and celebrating the past, present and future for LGBTQ communities everywhere.  It is fitting that the celebration is taking place in Toronto.  Canada is one of the most welcoming countries in the world for LGBTQ communities.  In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same sex marriage.  Canadian human rights legislation enshrines the prohibition against discrimination, and, of course, expressly references sexual orientation.

Despite the progress that Canada has made, are there still LGBTQ issues in Canadian workplaces?  Absolutely.  Sadly, it is extremely difficult to eradicate every possible manifestation of discrimination, especially those behaviours that are more subtle.  But the challenge facing employers is to take pro-active steps to ensure that workplaces are inclusive and welcoming, rather than merely responding to discrimination when it occurs.

With that in mind, I thought I might reference a few workplace issues that tend to arise that might affect LGBTQ employees.  The list is not all inclusive.

1.   Inclusive Language:  Canadian employers should make every effort to ensure that language used in the workplace is inclusive and non-discriminatory.  Some people may not be aware that they are offending others when they use certain words or expressions.  In other instances, written material, such as newsletters and brochures might not use inclusive language.

Employers should not wait to receive complaints about workplace language or about the lack of inclusivity in written materials.  It may be that the offended employees are not publicly out and would not want to be seen as the ones raising the issues.  But beyond that, it is not even a matter of who was offended on a particular occasion.  The challenge of ensuring an inclusive workplace means that employers must be vigilant about making sure that the workplace and the language used in it is welcoming at all times, even to those who might not be “visible.”

2.  Diversity Training:  Diversity training can help build awareness of LGBTQ issues in workplaces, just as it can also help build awareness of issues that affect other minority religious and cultural groups.   Diversity training can help build sensitivity for managers and supervisors in dealing with LGBTQ employees and can foster an appropriate and welcoming environment in Canadian workplaces.

3.  Publicizing LGBTQ Policies:  Employers should ensure that policies and promotional materials that are used in internal and external communications clarify employer support for LGBTQ employees.  This means that employee handbooks, for example, should mention the use of inclusive language as a policy, diversity training, if it is offered and the fact that the workplace welcomes LGBTQ employees just as it welcomes employees from all other walks of life.

4. Human Rights Policies:  Perhaps it goes with out saying that the Canadian human rights legislation, for example, the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Employers are required to have policies in place that provide procedures for investigating and handling complaints.  Any allegations of violations of such policies should be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

These are just a few of the many issues that LGBTQ employees might face.  During Worldpride week, one presentation on June 26, 2014 focuses on issues that LGBTQ lawyers face in working in the legal profession.  So it is clear that even among lawyers, there are still workplace issues affecting the LGBTQ community.

But overall, Canadians should be proud that these issues are being dealt with, both legislatively and otherwise, in a manner that is, generally, inclusive, fair and welcoming.  Wishing a Happy Worldpride Week to everyone.


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