Did you know that several cities including Des Moines,Iowa now have laws or ordinances prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation? Even though no federal prohibition exists, there is a trend toward enacting legislation in this area.

Under these laws, it is generally unlawful to use sexual orientation to:

Refuse to hire a job applicant.
Terminate an employee from a job.
Discriminate in compensation or in other terms or conditions of employment.
Print, circulate, or use any discriminatory statement, advertisement, publication, or job application form.
Make any inquiry that is discriminatory in connection with prospective employment.

If an employee or a job applicant feels that his or her rights have been violated and files a lawsuit, the possible damages a company may face include payment of back pay, reinstatement of the employee, a training requirement to eliminate the discriminatory practice, and payment of damages for emotional distress.

Be aware of your local regulations. Although discrimination based on sexual orientation is not yet prohibited by federal legislation, this is a hot issue. You may need to carefully consider your policies if you have one location in Des Moines and the other outside Des Moines. Do you want or need two policies that are separate and distinct regarding sexual orientation? However, even if this local regulation does not apply to your company, it is prudent to recognize this trend to avoid claims of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

If your company is in Des Moines or another city that has a similar regulation you should review your Employee Handbook and any other written policies regarding harassment and discrimination. These policies may need to be re-written to include sexual orientation as a protected class. This may include several sections and policies within your Employee Handbook such as Equal Employment Opportunity, unlawful discrimination and harassment, and personal appearance policies. You should also review any documents that include your Equal Employment Opportunity policy such as employment applications, Affirmative Action plans and employment advertisements for open positions.