Many employees presume that the protections from discrimination by employers are far broader than what actually exists. Employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace based on certain traits like race, sex, national origin, color and religion. Outside these secured classes protection offered to those who face unequal treatment at their place of work are more limited or maybe non-existent. While there is currently no protection based on sexual preference, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), there are signs that the Missouri legislature may finally be prepared to address this lack of workplace protections for those in the LGBT community.
While LGBT individuals who are public employees are protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, employees in the private sector have no comparable protection from discrimination in the workplace. Although many private employers voluntarily adopt policies that discourage this type of discrimination, this is far more limited than the protections afforded to those who are wrongfully terminated or treated differently because of their gender or race.
The Missouri Senate has indicated that this may soon change by passing a bill that would extend protections from workplace discrimination to the LGBT community by private employers. While it may be tempting to presume that the lack of LGBT protections does not directly impact those outside the LGBT community, this would not be a valid assumption. A private company is not prohibited from discrimination in hiring, compensation or other workplace benefits based on an assumption about an employee’s sexual preference regardless of whether the assumption is accurate. This means that if a private employer terminates an employee because of the employee’s presumed sexual orientation the employee’s only alternative is to start sending out resumes and completing job applications.
Although the Missouri Senate has considered such legislation annually over the last seven years, this represents the first time that this proposed legislation has made it to the Missouri House. There is more optimism than in the past that the House may pass the legislation and the governor sign the bill into law. The Senate Minority Leader who sponsored the bill believes that the governor will sign the bill if it passes in the House.