New Massachusetts Law Prohibits Discrimination On the Basis of Gender Identity & Gender Expression

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On November 23, 2011, Massachusetts joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia to provide protections to individuals on the basis of gender identity and/or gender expression.

The states that provide protections now include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia

A powerful resource to flag for future use is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Map. They haven’t added Massachusetts yet, but it’s a great quick reference for HR and legal professionals.

Law Takes Effect July 1, 2012

Although the law does not take effect until July 1, 2012, employers should start preparing now to ensure that their workplaces are ready for this transition. An important first step is to update your EEO and retaliation policies, and to make sure that you provide employees with both discrimination and harassment training.

A recent Littler ASAP on this new law indicates that:

…an estimated 33,000 Massachusetts residents identify themselves as transgender. Moreover, a 2011 report from the Gay & Lesbian Task Force found that 76% of those transgender individuals have felt harassed on the job because of their gender identity.

Employers Should Be Proactive

This is one area where the tensions and sensitivities can run very high. Some employees may have religious or personal objections, and feel that it's important to voice them—even while they're at work. On the flip side, employees who defend themselves or others can make some pretty offensive comments about a colleague's religious or personal beliefs. Regardless of the side, it can add up to a serious problem if you don't educate your employees about where the boundaries lie when it comes to acceptable behavior and speech.

Suffice it to say, this is one of those areas where the rules are not obvious to everyone, and you may find yourself dealing with employees who feel deeply protective of their "right" to express opinions and engage in conduct that squarely violate your policies – and potentially the law.

Look, your compliance training can't change peoples' fundamental beliefs, but it certainly can (and should) make the basic rules about what people can say and do clear, and as importantly, clarify where employees should go for help if they witness or become the victim of inappropriate behavior.

So get ahead of the curve and make changes now. Update your policies now and upgrade your compliance training programs to address the potential issues head on.

Adding robust content about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination to harassment training is the number one substantive customization request we see from ELT clients. The demand for in-depth and nuanced education in these arenas has skyrocketed in the last 2-3 years, so we continue to produce specialized training modules that deal with everything from gay adoption to transgender restroom policies.


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