The Title VII decision is a moment HR needs to focus on: Here's why

Woman waving rainbow flag Title VII ruling celebration

I recall a time several months ago when I was teaching a graduate school class, and we were discussing employment law. I posed a question to the students regarding Title VII, and what protections it afforded employees in America.

“Age,” replied one student.

“Religion,” replied another.

“Sexual orientation,” a third student replied.

When I told the third student that he was incorrect in his response, a collective bewilderment fell across the room, with everyone's mouths agape. I explained that while sexual orientation was a protected class in various states, it was not a protection afforded people on a national level.

That is, of course, until June 15, 2020.

A time to remember, for HR and everyone

We are living through a time of social change like no other in recent memory. Years from now, school children will study this period in our country’s history as one of the monumental shifts in culture, societal norms, workplace standards, and perhaps most importantly, an awakening of our collective consciousness towards people who may look, think, or love differently than us. Often, it has seemed like the country was on the cusp of this sort of transformation, yet the news cycle would turn, and the next big story would dominate, causing us to seemingly forget about the cause.

Enter the year 2020. This time seems different. It feels different, too.

At the same time that the country is rightfully (and finally) focusing on the systematic racism and injustices that have befallen Black people for hundreds of years, the LGBTQIA+ community received an unexpectedly favorable ruling from the Supreme Court: for organizations subject to Title VII, employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will now be illegal in the eyes of the law across the United States of America.

This landmark decision is a moment of great significance for employees all over the country — one that HR needs to recognize, celebrate, and of course adjust standards to fit.

What the Title VII ruling means professionally and personally

The anxiety brought on by having to hide your whole self at work stunts collaboration and creativity. As a human resources professional, I can say with confidence that positive implications abound for the workplace from an inclusivity and equity standpoint.

I can also say with confidence that this ruling is impactful, important, and long overdue.

I never planned to come out publicly on the Kronos What Works blog (even today, in a time of wide social acceptance and state and Federal protections there is an inherent risk in doing so), but I think it is important to have voices directly impacted heard during this time of change in the workplace and beyond. It is also made more comfortable by working for Kronos and Ultimate Software: two companies with cultures of acceptance that are merging together to create an even more welcoming environment.

Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by supportive and understanding people both personally and professionally. While I have been fortunate to not have experienced outward workplace discrimination because of my sexual orientation, I have friends who have experienced such a plight both covertly and overtly. For people like them, this ruling came far too late.

But onward we go.

Opportunities for HR to support LGBTQIA+ employees

As HR professionals, we are accustomed to being advocates for inclusivity and equity within the workplace — or at least we should be. Will this ruling change what we’re doing? It shouldn’t, because our charter has always been to promote inclusivity and avoid discriminatory practices. But let’s face it: unconscious bias is something that will never go away and having laws in place to protect against it can only be a positive thing.

Now is the time to show that your organization truly does stand for fairness and equality by letting employees know that this new ruling is welcomed. HR professionals have been afforded an opportunity to affirm a company culture committed to diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging within their establishments. With many companies recognizing June as pride month by changing logos to pride colors, having various celebrations, and raising awareness around LGBTQ issues, companies can also use this time to educate employees on this new ruling and celebrate the victory as another step towards social progress in our country.

Ways HR can take immediate action

So, what are some things HR professionals can do to support this new ruling by the high court?

First, it’s time to update the company handbook with new language reaffirming an organizational commitment to inclusivity and nondiscrimination. Check to be sure that your employment policies include language for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If they don’t, make sure this change is communicated to managers and employees alike. Other key policies to review include things such as company dress codes and bathroom access. These things can present challenges, especially for transgender employees.

Make sure you leverage your HR technology to ensure that employees have the option to choose the pronouns they prefer during the onboarding process, but also beyond that as well. Allowing for a variety of marital status options is also another nice touch that HR technology can provide. Furthermore, in company communications, ensure that language used is inclusive. Don’t assume things like gender or sexual orientation with your word choices.

Companies can also begin to take immediate action by providing online and physical resources to educate employees on LBGTQ issues and causes. Having open and honest conversations paired with attention to simple and small details can make a difference in terms of your company being viewed as an inclusive place to work for all.

Conclusion: Now is the time for celebration and recognition

Although the fight for equity for minority groups is nowhere near over, inclusive and positive social change should be celebrated. Companies can use this time to reiterate their pledge toward diversity and inclusion initiatives, leading to a positive experience for all employees. Something we talk a lot about on this blog is the moments that matter to employees, and if ever there was one for the LGBTQIA+ community at your organization, this is it. Make sure you give it the attention it deserves.