Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

LGBT Workers Face Rampant Discrimination, Higher Taxes and Receive Fewer Workplace Benefits

June 7th, 2013 | Kate Thomas

Image: Kate Thomas87% of polled Americans believe it’s illegal under federal law to fire an employee just because that employee is gay or lesbian.

They’re wrong.

A new report demonstrates how 40 years of advocacy have yet to yield federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Instead of having a fair chance to get ahead, our existing federal laws result in LGBT workers and their families being held back by bias, fewer workplace benefits and higher taxes.

There are many ways America’s basic bargain – i.e. the widely-held belief that those who work hard can get ahead – is broken for LGBT workers. Here are just a few:

  • Lack of nondiscrimination protections.

    There’s no federal law – and only a minority of states – that provide explicit protections for LGBT workers. In 29 states, state law allows private employers to fire someone based on their sexual orientation — and based on their gender identity in 34 states. Progress has perhaps also been impeded by the fact that 87% of Americans think that it is already illegal under federal law to fire someone simply for being LGBT.

  • Higher levels of education lower unemployment rates.

    The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that although transgender workers are more highly educated than the general population, their unemployment rates were twice the rate of the population as a whole–with rates for transgender people of color reaching as high as 4x the national unemployment rate

  • Family and medical leave.

    LGBT workers are denied equal access to unpaid leave to provide care for a same-sex spouse or partner. Transgender workers are often denied medical leave for transition-related medical care.

  • Family health benefits.

    An employer that extends family health benefits to married opposite-sex couples can legally deny that same coverage to married and unmarried same-sex couples. When LGBT workers do receive these benefits, middle-income families pay an estimated $3,200 in extra taxes for the same benefits that heterosexual workers get tax-free.

  • Spousal retirement benefits.

    LGBT workers are systematically denied Social Security spousal benefits designed to protect workers’ families during their retirement years. This costs retired same-sex couples up to $14,484 per year and a surviving same-sex widow or widower up to $28,968 per year.

  • Death and disability benefits.

    If an LGBT worker dies or becomes disabled, the worker’s same-sex spouse–and in some cases, his or her children–will be denied Social Security disability and survivor benefits, costing a surviving spouse with two children as much as $29,520 in annual benefits.

 

Even if same-sex couples were granted the right to marry in all 50 states tomorrow, it would still be perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay under federal law and in a majority of states.

“The public increasingly gets that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is flat wrong, and it’s past time for our work place and public policies to catch up with public sentiment,” Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU, said in a statement. “LGBTQ workers and their families deserve the same workplace protections and benefits as other workers and their families.”

This comprehensive report shows why it’s long past time for Congress and President Obama to take action to give LGBT workers the freedom to build a successful career without fear of harassment or discrimination based on who they are or who they love.

Giving credit where credit’s due: This report was created in coordination with a coalition of leading LGBT organizations, policy experts and business advocates that include the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in partnership with Freedom to Work, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Partnership for Women and Families, Out and Equal Workplace Advocates and SEIU.

A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits, and More Taxes for LGBT Workers – Read and/or download the full report and the executive summary at http://lgbtmap.org/lgbt-workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on June 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

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