Most LGBT employees remain in the closetNews added by Benefits Pro on May 8, 2014

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By Allen Greenberg

With state laws leaving them vulnerable, more than half of LGBT employees are hiding who they are at work for fear of workplace discrimination, according to a survey by the Human Rights Campaign, an arm of the nation’s largest LBGT civil rights group.

Corporate American has made “significant strides” in implementing inclusive employment policies and practices, but there are no state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states and gender identity in 33 states, the group said.

The HRC is hoping Congress will pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to extend federal sexual orientation and gender identity workplace protections.

Among its allies in promoting the legislation is Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook, who urged Congress to pass the legislation in a message posted on Twitter last month.

“The House should mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act by passing ENDA,” Cook tweeted.

The Senate passed ENDA last fall but the legislation has stalled in the GOP-controlled House. Speaker John Boehner has said he opposes discrimination of any kind, but thinks the bill is unnecessary. In response, LGBT advocates have been pushing the Obama White House for an executive order. The administration has gone only so far as to say it supports the legislation.

“While LGBT-inclusive corporate policies are becoming the norm, the fact is that LGBT workers still face a national patchwork of legal protections, leaving many to hide who they are for fear of discrimination in the workplace and in their communities,” Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, said in a statement.

“Even among those private sector employers with laudable, inclusive policies and practices, these are necessary but not wholly sufficient for creating a climate of inclusion. Employees are getting married without telling their coworkers for fear of losing social connections, or they’re not transitioning even though they know they need to for fear of losing their jobs. The inclusive policies coming from the boardroom have not fully made it into the everyday culture of the American workplace.”

The organization’s Cost of the Closet study surveyed over 800 LGBT workers. Among its findings:
  • Fifty-three percent of LGBT employees do not share who they are at work.

  • More than 80 percent of non-LGBT workers report that conversations about social lives, relationships and dating come up weekly and often daily and 81 percent feel that LGBT people “should not have to hide who they are at work,” however less than half would feel comfortable hearing an LGBT coworker talk about dating.

  • One in four LGBT employees report hearing negative comments such as “that’s so gay” while at work;

  • One-fifth of LGBT workers report looking for a job specifically because the environment wasn’t accepting of LGBT identities, and close to one in 10 successfully left a job for the same reasons.
In a report it released in December, the HRC said 91 percent of the Fortune 500 (vs. 88 percent last year) provided explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation, while 61 percent (vs. 57 percent last year) did so on the basis of gender identity, a historic high.

Another 67 percent offered same-sex partner benefits, another record, it said.

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