What is sexual orientation harassment or discrimination?

posted by Daniel Stevens  |  Mar 11, 2019 11:58 AM [EST]  |  applies to California

Sexual Orientation Harassment







 An Employment Lawyer is an attorney who may represent an employee against their employer in a situation where he or she was treated poorly at work based on their sexual orientation.  But what is sexual orientation harassment?  What is discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation?  In order to understand the answers to these questions, it may make more sense to start with the laws that surround these topics and to know who is protected by these laws. 


What is discrimination and harassment?


What exactly does it mean to be discriminated against in the workplace?  To discriminate is to notice an individual’s differences from others and to treat that individual differently from others in a negative way because of that individual’s differences.  There are employment laws in place that regulate discriminatory practices within the workplace and deem them as unlawful. 


Not all forms of discrimination are unlawful in the workplace.  For example, it may seem unfair but employees who are over a certain weight may not be a class of individuals who are protected under the law.  For instance, if an employee is overweight and is picked on and treated adversely compared to other employees based on being overweight, while It is unkind it may not be considered as unlawful.  Employment laws only recognize certain classes of individuals and particular characteristics as being protected.  Examples of classes and characteristics that are recognized by the law are an employee’s creed, religion, marital status, gender, age, military status, ethnicity, disability, medical condition, veteran status, and sexual orientation. If an employee is singled out and treated negatively based on belonging to one of the recognized classes or an employee is treated poorly based on possessing an acknowledged characteristic, then that may be considered as an unlawful treatment. 


Where an employee is treated differently compared to other employees in a negative way and it is because that employee falls under a protected class or bears a recognized characteristic, that employee may have a case against their employer for discrimination.  An employer or organization may be held liable for discrimination if the employee can show he or she was singled out based on a protected class or characteristic.  It is essential to note that belonging to a protected class or bearing a guarded characteristic does not mean that an employee is automatically granted a right to sue for discrimination and/or wrongful termination.  This means that if the unfair treatment is not based on the employee being a member of a protected class or bearing a protected characteristic then it not considered discrimination.  For example, George was a 50-year-old man at an online store’s warehouse.  The law does recognize age as a protected class for employees who are 40 years of age and older.  Recently George was fired for being late several times and was caught falsifying his time sheets.  In this scenario, although George may qualify as being a person belonging to a protected class, which in this case would be age, he may not be able to prove he was a victim of age discrimination.  In George’s case, his employer may be able to claim that he was fired because of George’s tardiness and fraudulent acts.  The adverse treatment needs to be based on the employee belonging to a protected class or bearing a protected characteristic whereas here, George was not exactly Employee of the Month material.  George’s termination would need to show that it was based on his age.  So if George had been told by his boss “hey, you’re getting too old for this job” and then thereafter he was terminated,  that may be considered as age discrimination. 


Discrimination in its application is handled by an Employment Lawyer who represents employees against their employers.  In order to even know if you or someone you know has been discriminated against, you should contact an Employment Lawyer in your area.


Harassment in the workplace can come in the form of teasing, name-calling, talking down to an employee, mocking, berating, or bullying.  Another form of harassment may be delivered through photos, videos, memes, cartoons, emails, texts, and physical gestures. All of these forms of harassment are categorized as unlawful once the harassment is motivated by the singling out of a protected class.  More specifically, if the harassment is based on an employee’s sexual orientation, that may be considered as unlawful.



Discrimination and harassment against sexual orientation 


Discrimination and/or harassment against an employee’s sexual orientation is considered as unlawful behavior because sexual orientation is considered protected by certain employment laws.  Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s sexual or romantic preference such as homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality.  If an employee is singled out, treated adversely, or treated less favorable compared to all other employees because of his or her sexual orientation, then that may be discrimination or harassment.  An employee who is being discriminated against based on his or her sexual orientation may experience being denied employee benefits, being passed over for promotion, reduced pay, reduced hours, or termination.  An applicant may also be subjected to unlawful hiring practices which also prohibited by the employment laws.


The laws in employment law hold employers accountable for discrimination even for perceived sexual orientation harassment and/or discrimination.  In other words, an employee who is assumed by their employer or fellow coworkers as being homosexual and is not, yet is teased and harassed based on that assumption, may still be held liable for harassment and/or discrimination. 


An Employment Lawyer who has handled cases in the past in sexual orientation discrimination and harassment may know the best way to represent an employee who is in a current discrimination or harassment situation at work.


 An employee should not have to endure harassment or discrimination if it is based on a protected class or characteristic, especially if the harassment and/or discrimination is based on an employee’s sexual orientation.  Employees have the right to feel safe in their work environment and employers are responsible for enforcing an anti-discrimination policy at the workplace.  The current employment laws are in place to provide protection for employees and they will be enforced if an Employment Lawyer is hired by an employee who is being victimized at work. 

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