Why businesses should treat everyone the same

    In a lot of places the law does not require you to offer LGBT employees equal protections and benefits. But it’s good for your business to offer more than the law requires to LGBT employees — to treat them as equals with your other employees.

    So, you’re running a business and you’ve discovered through the years that no matter how great your technology, no matter how great your business practices, no matter how superlative your service, that it’s really all about the people. The people who work for you are what determine whether you succeed or struggle.

    And that’s why you’re committed to getting the very best people for your organization. That’s why you apply to be considered one of “The Best Places To Work.” That’s why you recruit at the best schools.

    And yet, by not taking action, by not providing the same benefits and privileges to all your employees, you might foolishly be placing an obstacle between your business and a significant pool of talent. You might be hurting your business by failing to embrace a group that could give your organization a big boost forward.

    I’m talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. In a lot of places the law does not require you to offer LGBT employees equal protections and benefits. But — putting aside the religious aspects of this (which some folks won’t be willing to do) — it’s good for your business to offer more than the law requires to LGBT employees — to treat them as equals with your other employees.

    If you aren’t offering benefits and protections to LGBT employees, you’re very likely preventing your business from maximizing its potential. Because there’s evidence that a lot of smart, young (and not-so-young), forward-thinking people — you know, the kind of folks you like to have as employees — approve of gay marriage and would like to work at a place that embraces such diversity.

    Nearly two-thirds of 20-somethings approve of gay marriage. Seventy percent of adults 18-44 approve of same-sex unions. And same-sex marriage is an issue that appeals to the so-called creative that are driving our economy more and more.

    “It’s not that gays and lesbians equal economic growth or are more entrepreneurial,” Richard Florida, author of the book The Creative Class, told The New York Times recently. “But because places that are open-minded and diverse attract people who are original thinkers, and these communities percolate with entrepreneurial and creative ideas.”

    Here are some quick steps you should take if you want to position your company to appeal these creative:

    • Amend your Equal Employment Opportunity policy. It probably says something like ” the firm is committed to equal employment opportunity and will not engage in or tolerate unlawful discrimination on account of a person’s membership in any protected group.” Go a step further – expressly include sexual orientation and transgender individuals as one of your protected classes. Two reasons for this — it sends a message of fairness and, depending on the jurisdiction your business is in, sexual orientation may be a protected class and you could be opening up your company to a lawsuit.

    • Provide domestic partner benefits. As recently detailed by Wharton professors Betsey Stephenson and Justin Wolfers, marriage today is a partnership that is very different from the so-called traditional model, regardless of the sex of the partners.

    • In most places, current law does not require you to do these things. But I’m guessing that your business isn’t succeeding because you’re doing the bare minimum. The goal of all employers should be to surpass ordinary and become an extraordinary employer.

    It’s good for business.

    Michael Cohen is a Partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia and is a member of the firm’s employment services practice group. He can be contacted at mcohen@duanemorris.com. 

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