Issues

Non-Discrimination: Federal and Illinois Levels

THE SITUATION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL

 
In much of the nation, you can be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
 
Employment non-discrimination legislation is necessary as LGBT people continue to face adversity and discrimination in the workplace.
 
Nationally, there is no comprehensive federal non-discrimination law protecting LGBT Americans, though there are federal rules and policies prohibiting discrimination regarding some specific topics.
 
State laws aren’t much better. More than 206 million people – 65 percent of Americans – live in states where LGBT people have no explicit statewide workplace protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity. And even some states that protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers have no provisions making discrimination against transgender workers illegal.
 
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been proposed in nearly every Congress since 1994, yet again failed to reach the president’s desk in the last term. The strategy of how to achieve a comprehensive federal non-discrimination law moving forward is now a matter of discussion among Congressional allies and LGBT advocates.
 

President Obama signs executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT employees

President Obama signs executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT employees

In the meantime, with Congress not acting on the need for federal protections, President Obama signed an executive order in July, 2014, prohibiting employment discrimination by federal contractors and subcontractors against LGBT workers. Its effective date is April 8, 2015.
 
Learn more about the executive order at the U.S. Department of Labor website. The new federal rule states: “The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.” The President’s executive order added the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the federal anti-discrimination language. While previous rulings had determined that the earlier inclusion of “sex” covered transgender workers, the new language makes that clear by adding “gender identity.”
 
Approximately 25 percent of the American workforce is employed by companies doing business with the federal government.  This includes a wide array of industries and jobs which may include employees at banks, meat packing plants, retail stores, manufacturing plants, accounting firms, and  constructions companies. Familiar brand names that do business with the federal government such as Exxon Mobil are already changing their policies to comply with the executive order.
 
Comprehensive federal legislation would address discrimination nationally by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.  It would reinforce the principle that employment decisions should be based upon a person’s merit and job performance. Equality Illinois supports a federal law as long it is comprehensive in covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers and there is no broad religious exemption.
 
Illinois’ own Human Rights Act, enacted in 2005 with bipartisan support and with a key role played by Equality Illinois in securing passage, has worked effectively to protect LGBT employees on the same terms as other groups. To add new and far broader religious exemptions to LGBT nondiscrimination laws would set a dangerous precedent for new carve-outs to other existing federal civil rights law.
 
We are grateful to U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, who worked hard to pass ENDA through the Senate in the last session, and to our Representatives in the House who cosponsored ENDA. We will continue to work with the Illinois Congressional Delegation and our national partners to achieve comprehensive workplace protection.
 

THE SITUATION IN ILLINOIS

THE FACTS: Under state law, employees in Illinois are protected from workplace discrimination stemming from their sexual orientation and gender identity.
 
Under the Illinois Human Rights Act (en Español), Illinois is one of 18 states in the country to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
 
To learn more about the Illinois law regarding employment non-discrimination, contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights (en Español).

Employee Benefits

Offering benefits to same-sex married spouses of employees sends a message that a firm values all of its employees equally. An employer in Illinois is not required to enroll same-sex spouses in a benefit plans, unless that employer allows other employees to enroll their spouses as well. However, Illinois employers are required to offer equal benefits to all employees with same-sex or different-sex spouses.

If an employer’s insurance policy allows for coverage for a married different-sex spouse of a policyholder, it must also provide for the same coverage for a same-sex married partner of the policyholder. On that same note, if a policy covers dependent children of a married policyholder in a different-sex marriage, it must also cover children of a policyholder in a same-sex marriage. In addition to this requirement, employers may choose to offer other benefits such as tuition assistance, bereavement leave, relocation expenses, adoption assistance, and many other benefits.

Neither the federal government nor the State of Illinois will tax you on the value of health benefits your employer provides to your spouse.

Resources

Employer Best Practices: Equality Illinois’ Corporate Responsibility Project aims to provide every business operating in Illinois with best industry practices to foster an environment of inclusion and support for all employees.

Law Firm Best Practices coverThe Law Firm Best Practices Manual is a comprehensive 44-page guide to building LGBT-inclusive law practices. Read and download the guide here.

Raising the Bar: The annual Equality Illinois Raising the Bar publication highlights law firms with an exceptional commitment to their LGBT attorneys and staff as well as their engagement with the LGBT community at large. Read Raising the Bar and the factors that earned the law firms top recognition here.

Out and Equal Training: As laws change, it is important for employers to be informed about LGBT issues. If you are interested in fostering a safe and welcoming environment for your employees, there are resources available to guide you through that process. Also, it is important to be aware of the details of legal issues dealing with workplace discrimination.

Find resources at Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, a national organization dedicated to safe and equitable employment for LGBT Americans.

Illinois Department of Human Rights: Illinois Department of Human Rights can assist you in filing a claim of discrimination. For most cases, a claim must be filed within 180 days of the alleged incident; a full year is allowed for housing cases.

You will need to provide current contact information for yourself, the organization/person alleged to have discriminated against you, and any witnesses. You must also provide the date of the most recent incident and any supporting documents.

To learn more about the requirements of the Illinois Human Rights Act or to file an employment discrimination complaint, visit the Illinois Department of Human Rights website. (En Español.)

EI-Know-your-Rights-Employment-Brochure“Know Your Rights” Employment Pamphlet

Much of this information is in the Equality Illinois “Know Your Rights” pamphlet. You can make your own 3-fold pamphlets for personal use or multiple copies for your organization. You can see and download it HERE.