Human Resources News & Insights

What would you do? Supervisor reluctant to work with employee who has ‘alternative lifestyle’

Periodically, we present a real-life workplace problem and ask three HR managers to provide a solution. This week’s problem: A supervisor expresses his objections to working with a gay employee.

The scenario:

“Cindy, we need to talk.” Supervisor Dan Winters sat down in the chair in front of the HR manager’s desk. “There’s an issue we need to discuss – now.”

“What’s the problem, Dan?”  Cindy asked.

“I think you know. The subject is the employee who just transferred to my department,” said Dan.

“John Costello,” Cindy nodded. “What about him?”

A question of religion
“Will you stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about?” Dan was getting steamed.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” Cindy said. “Why don’t you just come out and tell me what’s on your mind?”

“All right, all right,” Dan conceded.  “The problem is that John Costello is gay.”

“Why would that be any concern of yours?” Cindy asked. “He’s a skilled worker, your head count was down, and we moved him to a position where we felt  he could best help the company. What’s the problem?”

“You know – pretty much everyone around here knows – I’m a religious man. And my religion says that homosexuals are sinners. Do you really expect me to work  with somebody whose ‘alternative’ lifestyle is abhorrent to me?” Dan leaned forward to emphasize the question.

“If he’s not transferred out, I’m quitting.”

If you were Cindy, what would you do or say next?

Bill Williams, VP of HR, Blossburg, PA
What Bill would do: If it wouldn’t hurt production, I’d separate Dan and John into different departments. If, for some reason, it wasn’t feasible to separate them, I’d tell Dan he’d have to abide by the law and work with John.
Reason: We want to avoid lawsuits at all costs, so separating the workers would be the best option as long as production wouldn’t take a hit. No matter what, additional diversity training would be mandatory for Dan.

Joanne Wegener, HR manager, Bellevue, WA
What Joanne would do: I’d tell Dan that by law, we can’t grant his request to transfer John. Even if Dan’s been with us for a long time, I’d tell him he’ll have to find a way to co-exist with John. If he still thinks he can’t do that, he’ll have to take his services elsewhere.
Reason: We don’t look at sexual orientation or religion as a factor in transferring, promoting or firing employees. So unless John’s got a bona fide performance issue, we’re not going to transfer him.

Joyce Vondran, HR manager, Troy, AL
What Joyce would do: If Dan insisted his value system made working with John impossible, I’d temporarily reassign him, not John, to another department. I’d allow Dan to return to his old post and work with John only if Dan learned to accept our policy on such matters during his reassignment.
Reason: I wouldn’t make a quick  decision on a touchy matter like this. I
feel at least a temporary move for Dan would be best. I wouldn’t transfer John because I’d be afraid of a discrimination claim. But I’d also not want to let Dan go because he might turn around and sue us for religious discrimination.

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  • CH

    I find it interesting that each of the comments discusses legalities and possible discrimination claims. A discrimination claim from John would probably not be upheld on the basis of sexual orientation since as we all know it is not a protected class. However if John happened to fall under one of the other classes covered by Title VII this might be a concern. As for transferring John, he’s obviously a top performer why would he be punished for someone else’s homophobia? The fact that none of the above professionals even broached the subject that the supervisors attitude is blatantly wrong kind of disturbs me. What culture do your companies cultivate that a supervisor would refuse to work with a qualified and productive team member, and how can diverse team members feel that their interests are being looked out for when you would subject John to a transfer rather than address his supervisor backwards attitude? If he practiced some form of radical faith and refused to work with women or people of color would you react the same way? My assumption is that if that were the case Dan would have been dealt with in a much different manner. Religion is like politics and is best left at home, so regardless of the supervisors religious convictions one would hope he would be professional enough to see the issue with his actions and statements.

    I worked for a woman once who referred to me as “the gay one”. She told new hires that they would be training with me and made sure to tell them my sexual orientation. It was a horrible environment, and one that I couldn’t wait to leave. If you want your “alternative lifestyle” employees to feel appreciated, welcomed, and respected lets start by not calling this a lifestyle. Being a vegetarian is a lifestyle. I will probably ruffle some feathers with this next comment, but sexual orientation is tied to a number of very complex social, psychological, and physiological dimensions. History and scientific study has shown us that it is neither a product solely of nature or nurture. Being gay is not a condition and it certainly doesn’t warrant mistreatment because some bone headed bigot wants to use religion as an excuse for discrimination. Had a supervisor at my company made that comment no one would have been transferred. The supervisor would have received some counseling, maybe some corrective action, and possibly a pink slip. We have a very clear anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Regardless of religious beliefs all employees agree to adhere to that policy when decide to take a job with us, so Dan would have little re-course.

  • John

    I am the HR person at my place of employment. I appreciate the value and frankness of what CH has said so I’ll be just as open. I’m a religious man and consider the lifestyle outside of my religious acceptance. Now, let me be clear about this. That does NOT mean that I can’t coexist with someone nor does it mean that I will, have or will accept from anyone else behaviors or actions against a gay person on this job.

    In fact I have hired gay employees (yes, I knew they were gay), I have protected the rights of gay employees (or better stated all of our employees) and my personally held beliefs are not an issue in pursuing my profession. Unfortunately that is not always the case as this piece above fully illustrates.

    Dan has no case. He is not being discriminated against, he is not being told he can’t hold his religious beliefs nor are the tenants of the person with the alternative lifestyle being forced on him. No case. However John may have. Rather he is a top performer or not has no bearing on this issue. Does Dan create a hostile work environment? That does not necessarily have to be directly harassing John. He could have a polarizing effect and cause the other employees to avoid him by a concerted effort.

    If it were me Dan would be given a lesson in employment law. If there is no protected statute in your state for sexual discrimination there is for gender discrimination. Next he Dan found it impossible to work with John then I would transfer him IF there was a job suitable elsewhere and not necessarily a similarly situated situation. If no job is available I cannot have Dan setting a precedent of blackmailing the business into carrying out his prejudices. He would be given remedial actions. If that did not work there would be no problem with me terming Dan. Bottom line is John is doing his job. His orientation is not an issue.

  • John

    CLARFICATION:
    “Next he Dan found it impossible to work with John then I would transfer him IF there was a job suitable elsewhere and not necessarily a similarly situated situation

    The sentance should read:
    “Next if Dan found it impossible to work with John then I would transfer Dan IF there was a job suitable elsewhere and not necessarily a similarly situated situation.”

  • NoJudge

    My religious beliefs are the same as Dan’s but that does not give me the right to judge and discriminate in the workplace. Working with John does not mean you’re condoning his homeosexuality. John’s transfer into Dan’s department will not decrease Dan’s paycheck or keep groceries out of his home unless Dan does something stupid like create a hostile environment for John.

  • NoJudge

    “Working with John does not mean you’re condoning his homeosexuality.”

    Spelling correction: Working with John does not mean you’re condoning his homosexuality.

  • Life what?

    My issue is with the term Lifestyle.
    the choice/use of this word in itself is my issue.
    Being gay is NOT a choice, it’s not a “style of life”.

    Lifestyle is one of the most misused words in our language. Is being straight or heterosexual a lifestyle? is not going to church a lifestyle? what about wearing flip flops?
    I know this website and producer of news for this site consistently tries to stir the pot about certain subjects to get traffic. But I felt something needed to be said about the use of this word related to sexual preferences.
    Please update yourselves on the terminology. It’s not an alternative lifestyle – Gay, lesbian or transgender are the preferred terms.
    by the way, I am a straight male.

  • Kevin

    For me, the answer would have been easy. John gave the HR manager an ultimatum: “If he’s not transferred out, I’m quitting.” Easy enough. I would have said to Dan, “I understand you have strong convictions to your beliefs. But when such intolerance makes its way into the workplace, we need to take measures to ensure that your convictions do not create a hostile work environment. If you fee that you cannot create an environment that is safe and productive, I am willing to accept your immediate resignation. It is your choice, but understand that we are not transferring John out because of your intolerance of non-work related issues. Please come back in 30 minutes with your decision. If you chose to resign, please provide your resignation in writing, complete with the reason for your resignation. If you chose not to resign, then please provide me with your commitment to provide a safe and productive work environment for all of those with whom you work.” I would leave the decision in his hands.

    It is unfortunate that such situations still exist in the workplace (or anywhere really). As long as certain religions continue to teach hated and intolerance, and this problem spills over into the workplace, we will have to deal with its consequences. There is no place in our organization for such intolerance – nor will I allow it. When we go to court, as we most likely would in this situation, I would let Dan speak for himself. I am confident that his conviction to hatred and bigotry would convince the court that there is no room in the workplace for such divisive and discriminatory actions. John can take his convictions to a new workplace, and hopefully such work places will become harder to find in the future.

  • The Red One..

    I would ask supervisor Dan if he had ever sinned? Let him answer the question, then tell him that what employees do on the outside confines of the work walls are their inherent rights as human beings. If we started allowing religion to run business, then it’s not a business, it’s a church. I wouldn’t seperate either employee. There is no “employment” issue involved in this case. It’s a case of an individual who is clearly uncomfortable with his own sexuality and feels that he should be able to use the law to intervene. It’s really sad how people are these days. If they are both productive workers, we need to ask supervisor Dan to be appropriate in his role and simply be “the gay ones” supervisor without prejudice. My best to the gay employee, who is probably a blast to work with and loves people unconditionally. Wish we had more of them.

  • David

    I would like to hear from someone who would actually side with Dan and take action against John. Of course I would never do business with that person’s company, but it would be interesting to see how they would disguise their bigotry as sound business sense. And, “lifestyle”….come on people..it is 2009!

  • Carrie

    I am a Christian. I personally believe that homosexuality is a choice and that it is wrong. However, sin is sin, and I don’t believe that homosexuality is any worse than lying, gossiping, laziness, or any other sin that may occur in the workplace. It is wrong to use religion as an excuse not to be able to work with a homosexual, and I believe Dan only made Christians look bad. Jesus himself associated with the tax collectors and prostitutes, and I don’t believe the Bible supports Dan’s view. Unless Dan and everyone else he has worked with is perfect and sinless, he has no grounds to use religious discrimination to sue if things do not work out his way.

    If there should be an issue down the road with sexual harassment that was not dealt with by the company, that would be a different story, but that does not appear to be the case here.

  • RWA

    Don’t ask Don’t tell :).

  • http://kitchell.com Lance

    If someone sides with Dan, they should get out of Human Resources.

  • Gary

    Dan is asking the company to assist with in resolving a problem that creates a moral dilemna for him. Dan must choose between earning a living and working along side homosexual employees. This decision is not too different than the claim some pharmacist are making about being conflicted between their religious beliefs and being asked by their employer to fill prescriptions for the “morning after” contraceptive pill for women.

    Cindy ought to stay neutral in her response to Dan, telling him that like John, his skills are valued but it is up to him to find a way within his religion to work with homosexuals. He is not being asked to accept John’s sexuality just as John is not being asked to change his ways to accommodate Dan’s religious beliefs. Dan simply needs to find a way to work with John or find another company that better suits his religious beliefs.

  • Tom

    I sympathize with Dan, but legally he has no option, except to resign. I think it is a tragedy when an individual must choose between his job and his relgious beliefs, but this is his choice. I would tell him that I may not agree with his beliefs, but I respect the strength of his convictions and I would wish him well.

  • Mariah

    I have seen many suggest that Dan would be creating a hostile working environment. I am curious to know how a hostile work environment would be defended in court. Doesn’t something negative have to happen to create a hostile working environment?

  • MG

    I have not read anywhere in here that the whole issue of Dan’s religious beliefs are not to conduct/associate with sinners….well who isn’t a sinner in some way or another? If he cannot work with John due to him being a sinner then who can he work with?

  • Tom

    Mariah,

    You are absolutely correct. I think that if Dan and John work together, there will be allegations by one or the other (or both) that there is a hostile work environment created by actions of the other party. I don’t envy the HR manager in this situation.

  • Mariah

    I don’t envy the HR manager either. However, I’m still interested in how it would actually be a hostile environment. Would derogatory comments constitute a hostile work environment, or would there actually have to be some type of ‘physical action’ taken; such as a shouting or pushing match? I’m curious for the details, as I believe I may be encountering this sitation soon.

  • John

    Mariah Says:

    March 30th, 2009 at 2:14 pm
    “I have seen many suggest that Dan would be creating a hostile working environment. I am curious to know how a hostile work environment would be defended in court. Doesn’t something negative have to happen to create a hostile working environment?”

    Yes, but it does not have to be directly by Dan and you don’t want something negative to happen at this stage. Dan has effectively put you on notice about his feelings and intentions.

    Hostile environment could be explicit or implicit. Though something that is patently offensive may not be hostile if that behavior becomes severe and pervasive then it is a hostile environment. If Dan is harassing or causing harassment by concert that is a hostile environment. If the behavior unreasonably interferes with John’s ability to work such as request being ignored, if he is being subjected to unusual work loads due to his sexual orientation or being scrutinized unreasonably could be hostile environment.

    None of that was mentioned in the article. However it would not be a far stretch to see that John may have the potential for some of this type of behavior. If the potential exists and HR knows of it and does nothing then HR has created a ‘tort’ situation for the employer. HR would have to be forward thinking and let Dan know that employment law would not allow his religious belief to hamper in any way John’s ability to do his job in a hostile free work environment.

  • JoeC

    It’s encouraging to see some rational points of view expressed here. Without minimizing the potential risks of this situation, I would question whether Dan is really “supervisor material” (pardon the old term). As David commented, it is 2009 and one would think that we have trained and selected our “management team” better than to allow a personal bias to be tossed on the table as a threat to adversly impact the entire operation. Maybe Dan shouldn’t be in that position in which case he might ultimately be doing the company a favor by leaving. This is a time for the company to stand firm and expect more professional behavior from its leaders. I like Joanne’s idea of having him take some time to seriously consider his decision. After all, if he’s such a “religious” man, he’ll be led to pray about the matter and, if he then listens, he’ll hear the right answer.

  • JoeC

    It’s encouraging to see some rational points of view expressed here. Without minimizing the potential risks of this situation, I would question whether Dan is really “supervisor material” (pardon the old term). As David commented, it is 2009 and one would think that we have trained and selected our “management team” better than to allow a personal bias to be tossed on the table as a threat to adversly impact the entire operation. Maybe Dan shouldn’t be in that position in which case he might ultimately be doing the company a favor by leaving. This is a time for the company to stand firm and expect more professional behavior from its leaders. I like Joanne’s idea of having him take some time to seriously consider his decision. After all, if he’s such a “religious” man, he’ll be led to pray about the matter and, if he then listens, he’ll hear the right answer.

  • LW

    What would’ve been interesting is if the scenario stated that the supervisor was a Muslim, and he objected to working with a homosexual for religious reasons. Maybe I’m wrong, but my guess is the general response would’ve been different, worrying about violating the Muslim’s “freedom of religion.” I feel certain there would’ve been a different “sensitivity” to the supervisor’s concerns. And if that’s the case, how is that not religious discrimination?

  • Steve

    No transfers, no arrangements and no easy way around it – Dan has to fully accept that John is in his department and he must be treated with respect and dignity as he would any other employee under his care and control – or Dan must leave the company – either voluntarily or involuntarily.

    Hostile work environments are created via overt or covert means and are usually adjudicated using a civil standard of law “on a balance of probabilities did this behavior occur” – not a criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

  • Linda

    Loved Kevin’s response. Thank you!

  • Mariah

    Thanks for the detailed clarification John, and I will continue with the questions. What if it is the HR Manager making the comments? For example, the HR manager is a publicly religious person and one of his subordinates is gay. The HR manager will make snide remarks that show his distaste for the gay community. Would those comments alone constitue the hostile work environment (again, stressing that the HR Manager is the offender), or would further employment actions that you listed above need to happen?

  • Brenda

    I totally agree with Carrie. I am a Christian as well and what Dan said about gays is correct, that it is a sin, but everyone is a sinner. As a Christian, we are suppose to live in the world, not of the world, and why not look at the situation as a time to be a good example (which his actions were not)! His religion or John’s choice of lifestyle doesn’t have anything to do with their job, so there shouldn’t have even been an issue. It’s all personal preferences. Dan doesn’t have to agree with the personal lifestyle of his co-worker, but he doesn’t have to let some body else’s choices effect him and his work. He can choose to work somewhere else if it’s too big of an issue for him.

  • John

    LW

    Though you present an interesting circumstance the issue remains the same. We have been more higly attuned to the Muslim faith due to recent discriminations they have suffered. Stopping egregious behaviors toward Muslims is certainly the right thing to do. However, as you know, the Muslim’s protected right to freedom of religion is no greater than John’s would be. Neither Dan in his deeply held belief, nor the Muslim in their deep belief, have a case to alter the work environment of John.

  • Steve

    Keep religion, sexual orientation etc out of the workplace – that is for home and church only. This is a professional environment not a personal one – keep it out of the workplace or suffer the consequences of a unproductive and nasty work environment.

    Also – somebody please define sin for me that is not in keeping with capricious, arbitrary and personal views regardless of the source of this determination. I am not gay, quite straight in fact – this type of dialogue about sin because of sexual orientation is absolutely dark ages stuff. If we use this reasoning in every facet of our lives we would still be living in caves.

  • HollywoodHR

    I have to agree with MG. According to the Bible, all men and women are sinners. Logically, how can he work with ANYONE? How can he live with himself, as a common sinner?

  • John

    Mariah Says:

    March 30th, 2009 at 3:19 pm
    “Thanks for the detailed clarification John, and I will continue with the questions. What if it is the HR Manager making the comments? For example, the HR manager is a publicly religious person and one of his subordinates is gay. The HR manager will make snide remarks that show his distaste for the gay community. Would those comments alone constitute the hostile work environment (again, stressing that the HR Manager is the offender), or would further employment actions that you listed above need to happen?”
    You are welcome. :>)

    If the HR manager is the one making the comments then John would have an easier time building a prima-facia case against the company. Harassment in a way is ‘position sensitive’. You may have two employees performing the same negative behavior, one a peer and the other a supervisor or administrator. A worker’s peer can be out right annoying but may have little or no power to ultimately negatively affect the employee’s employment. That would not be the case with the HR manager. The HR position means that the person can overtly or covertly affect the outcome of evaluations, promotion opportunities, raises or simply how other workers interact with him. In fact any negative employment action even if legitimate, may perceived by “John” as connected to his sexual orientation. Nothing more need be done than John having a record of comments or witnesses to those comments from the HR manager. The company will be subject to a big legal defense bill at the least, a settlement to keep from going to court in the middle or a large judgment at the end of a black eye trial. Your HR person needs to figure out if the comments are worth that.

  • John

    Steve
    “. . .Also – somebody please define sin for me that is not in keeping with capricious, arbitrary and personal views regardless of the source of this determination.”

    Sin is missing the mark of perfection from a religious perspective. Though many may not agree that certain things are sin or wrong we have many example in our life that we generally adhere to as wrong or sin. Adultery, child molesters, murder, stealing and so forth are many equally held standards of sin across religious boundaries.

    The ultimate standard of sin from a Christian perspective began at the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The sin of disobedience caused man to fall from perfection, therefore we all are sinners.

    Though I am answering your question, which I think was a good one, I hope you have read my comments about the workforce.

  • Mariah

    John,

    Thank you so much for the detailed information. I know just overhearing the comments makes me angry; but every time I’ve confronted the HR manager…..he is pompus and arrogant. Unfortunately, with these economic times; I don’t see anyone taking a stand against him. And although I have not seen any negative employment action by him, I do believe he has influenced the rest of the management team (in which I call the Good Ole Boy Club) to not trust in or respect that employee as they once did. Small minds are definately sad indeed.
    One last question John; from all your responses, are you an attorney, or have just been in the HR game for a while? :)

  • Mariah

    One last thought…..how long from the last comment would the employee have to file with the EEOC, 180 days? Or would it be 180 days from the onset of the comments?

  • David

    Thank you Steve. I am gay and I am also very spiritual. If I have a conflict with my personal belief system, I will take it to my clergy and not my HR director. I don’t understand those that look to judge others. I am sure we all have enough to contend with in our own personal lives to keep us busy.

    The answer is that there isn’t room for this at the workplace.

  • John

    Mariah

    Wow! Though I should not be surprised. But pompous and arrogant are the very things that will trip them. They think that they are above the fray they create and no one is powerful or smart enough to do anything about them. Just a matter of time.

    I am not an attorney though I have been asked that on occasion. I am The Human Resources Captain of an emergency services organization. I am a Fire Department Equal Opportunity Officer Level II which is the highest certification from the state I received my training. That is the equivalent of an EEOC office manager as I am told by the certification board. I have handled many cases for my organization and have acted as an advisor for other organizations in several states. If I may be of some small help let me know.

  • John

    It should be 180 days after the known infraction. However if the HR manager is constantly doing this he ‘renews’ the infraction each time and gives the employee a history of comments that may be tendered to the EEO Commission.

  • Mariah

    Well John, since you offered…….
    I know that the employee is in somewhat financial distress…and doesn’t want to lose their job. With that, they also don’t want to make their work life even more miserable than it already is by filing with the EEOC. What would you suggest the employee do?
    I’ve suggested to the employee that they should file a claim with the EEOC, document all behavior after the charge is received by the company—as I’m expecting retalitory behavior, and save as much money as possible in the meantime to get through it all.
    Also, as this is on going behavior, and the arrogance level is so high; there are several other witnesses to these remarks. Does that strengthen the case at all?
    Lastly, with your knowledge and experience, would you believe there to be a case at all? And if so, do recommend seeking legal representation, or allowing the EEOC to investigate on their own?
    And….small help is an understatement, as I’ve learned much more to assist/coach this employee to a road of recovery; whether that be just mentally/emotionally…or monetarily. So THANKS!!!!!

  • John

    Mariah email me at and I will help as much as I can. Of course any advice is not legal advice just the benefit of my experience. :>)

    The price is how the heck do you insert that smiley??

  • M

    I am a religious person but this is ridiculous. First of all – it’s not Dan’s place to be judgmental. Second – if he follows this to its logical conclusion, he would have to quit his job and avoid people altogether. Because if he is refusing to work with what he defines as a “sinner”, that pretty much includes everyone, including himself. I’ve always been a religious person but I’m ashamed to be associated with people like Dan – and there are a lot of them out there. These are the typical “religious” people who end up in the spotlight and they represent everything that is wrong with religion today. WWJD was kind of a cheesy fad, but it had a good point. Very few of the religious people in the spotlight today strive to be like the one they follow. They puff out their chests and point fingers, spouting judgement and condemnation. This type of action was dispicable even to the one they claim to follow.

  • Mariah

    At the risk of sounding ignorant…..is there somewhere on this blog that I find your address?

    And the smiley…..well I just use a colon and end parenthesis. I know it automatically works on word documents and email….but I didn’t think it would come through on here! lol

  • John

    Not sure what happened to my email but I’ll try to answer you here.

    “What would you suggest the employee do?”

    That would have to be a measure of what the employee can tolerate. If the financial situation is so that he cannot do anything then he will have to survive in an increasingly untenable situation. But before he decides to do anything, count the cost. A battle worth fighting is also worth losing if it comes to that.

    “I’ve suggested to the employee that they should file a claim with the EEOC, document all behavior after the charge is received by the company—as I’m expecting retaliatory behavior, and save as much money as possible in the meantime to get through it all.”

    Me, I would file. You see filing would protect the employee from retaliation. In fact the best thing that could happen is if the management did retaliate. More lawsuits are won from retaliation than the original complaint. Seeking counsel before filing the EEOC complaint would be a wise first step. Some take cases on a contingent bases and will be paid out of a settlement. Filing directly with EEOC may have an advantage simply because the agency is on board early on and the company will see that as a serious matter.

    “Also, as this is on going behavior, and the arrogance level is so high; there are several other witnesses to these remarks. Does that strengthen the case at all?”

    Oh my, yes! Personal opinions are one matter but this is a subject matter that he has spread among many people. That alone provides evidence of malicious intent toward the employee.

    “Lastly, with your knowledge and experience, would you believe there to be a case at all?”

    From what you have said I would think so. Cases have been prayed in court and won with much less. The important thing is this. Has the employee been negatively impacted? Does the employee feel that a constructive resignation is about to happen? In other words has the situation become so that he feels he cannot work there due to the behavior an attitude of the management? Since the comments and the effects have been made known to the HR manager notes of the responses and continued behavior from you would be helpful. Also little known is that those that have been subjected to the behavior of the HR as witnesses if it has become severe and pervasive to the point they can’t do their work they may also have an eeoc complaint. This thing could grow exponentially.

  • Mariah

    Thanks again John. I am also guessing that there is a case, it’s just a matter if the employee will finally take a stand. It’s my understanding that this HR Manager has had a case filed before….and several complaints, but he is still employed by that company. I’m not quite sure why….as I’ve seen managers terminated immediately for such behavior. I’m sure the corporate office has a good reason for just paying out and not terminating, which is actually really discontenting…..

  • MF

    I would have asked the unhappy supervisor to reconsider whether he can work with someone he objects to and if he can’t then it may be best he leave. Make the other person a minority or different religion and ask if he would make the same demands? I would doubt it. I agree with making it his choice and getting him to write it all down for documentation. If he clearly states his reasons for not wanting to work with someone and still can’t see the problem with his vision, then there is no place for him in the company.

    I also see gay as a choice and have worked with gays and socialized with gays many times. Does it mean I can’t work with them? No and I have no way of knowing anyone in my current firm is gay or not. We all have our biases, gay people included, but we must find ways to work with anyone that is qualified or find something to do on our own. I do not believe gays should get any special treatment in the workplace. If I never ask someone if they are gay, then I will never know unless they disclose it to me. I will get down of my soap box now.

  • David

    It’s always interesting to hear non-gay persons talk about being gay as a “choice”. How in the world would you know??? I guess it makes it easier to be judgemental. If you believed it was genetics then you would have to rethink all of this. We choose the clothes we wear and how we treat our fellow man and though we may control our behavior we are still who we are at the end of the day. From what I have seen, those that can’t deal with their feelings openly often end up de-frocked by their own religious communities.

  • Linda

    All of this discussion has moved away from the original question. And first, I cannot believe how many posts I read where the writer feels being gay is a choice. Geez. I am willing to bet that none of my gay friends would agree with that assessment. I am also disappointed that anyone who claims to be a “Christian” would honestly believe that their Lord would not recognize or love someone whose genetic makeup is different from that of a heterosexual. And I’m pretty much a “conservative” in comparison to many who post in this forum.
    Kevin posted a scenario a ways back that was bang on – how to actually have the discussion with the supervisor and move to resolution. From an HR standpoint, that is the what we should be focusing on, not all of the philosophical issues. The law has changed the workplace (in many cases for the better) so that all individuals are more likely to feel safe to pursue a career. The real “choice” is how individuals deal with it going forward. If the mere presence of an individual with different viewpoints (or different color skin, or a disability that is difficult to understand) is enough to cause stress to the supervisor, that is truly sad. If that individual does things that can be labeled as harassment, then it is dealt with.

  • David

    Amen Linda!!!

  • David

    Linda: AMEN!!!

  • http://hrmorning.com Kathleen

    The Righteous shall live by Faith
    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness supressed the turth. For what can be know about God is palin to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their fuoolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
    Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather then the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
    For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. for their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
    Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on thsoe who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself-that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
    He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth by obeying unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and diestress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
    Romans 1:16 – 2:11

  • MJ

    Kathleen – what are you communicating with this lengthy passage?

  • mike R

    I enjoyed the discussion. One point I would like to make is how to deal with similar situations in the future where one employee comes to you because they have a problem with working with another employee. There is a trap when YOU are going to come up with the solution. I used to have a sign above my desk that said “if you bring me a problem, bring some solutions with you.” The discussion usually opens with “what would you like me to do?” Then we take a look at the options from all sides.

    This discussion has focused on a bias against sexual orientation. Over the years, I have had employees who had difficulty working with others of a different sex, race, or ability level. The process is always the same.

    To Lance: “If someone sides with Dan, they should get out of Human Resources.”

    I think it important, not to side with anyone. All parties will feel they are right and justified. The key for HR is to help each side see and consider the other point of view and to generate a realistic solution. If you have taken sides, you are now part of the problem.

  • Kevin

    Kathleen, I too would like to hear what you are communicating – in your own words. Tell us what you are saying.

  • MG

    My point before this thread got out of hand was, Dan the supervisor should have been told that he better not create any problems due to his religous views as it has nothing to do with work. All people have issues with someone they work with and if it gets in the way of the work at hand then there should be disiplanary steps taken. As well, because he opened up to the HR Manager regarding himself being a discriminatory person he should also have been warned about the policy, assuming the company has a policy on harrasment and discrimination.

  • http://hrmorning.com Kathleen

    MJ – just that we are all accountable for our actions. I have allowed “God’s Word” to define ‘sin’. I have allowed “God’s Word” to define “lifestyle/choice”. Our personal lives absolutely roll over into our work environment, there is no way any one of you can say that that doesn’t. In an ideal work environment it would be wonderful if it didn’t, but it does. So…. as mike R stated – we must work within the boundries of HR Law’s. Desperatly try to keep personal feelings out of our decisions and/or comments and help each side see and consider the other point of view in order to generate a working, co-existant environment.

  • MJ

    This is a great reminder to all of us to look at our handbooks and harassment policies to ensure they address all types of harassment in the workplace. Employees need to be reminded that they must treat one another with professional courtesy, despite their personal feelings toward one another. If they are unable to do so, then there is a performance issue and it must be addressed.

  • RWA

    Kathleen is saying that we are all sinners and should’nt be judgers. Oh, and homosexuality is not a sin.

  • http://hrmorning.com Kathleen

    RWA – wrong again. See how people distort what is said and twist it to their own end. “I” didn’t say anything!!!

  • John

    Mike R
    “I think it important, not to side with anyone. All parties will feel they are right and justified. The key for HR is to help each side see and consider the other point of view and to generate a realistic solution. If you have taken sides, you are now part of the problem.”

    Mike I like your approach to finding a solution. It gets the employee involved in an interactive process to find the common ground. If it works evryone is the better for it.

    However it IS the job of HR to take sides persay. If your aapproach does not work you have to become an advocate for employment law. By default you then must take sides with the individual that falls on the side of employment law. Granted, taking sides should never be personal or to support an agenda. But at the end of the day HR must stand up for (take sides) for employment law, if not that then public policy, if not that then best business practice, if not that best common sense solution. All of these things call for active educated choices that HR is obligated to make and then enforce.

  • John

    The argument or discussion of rather or not gay is or is not a choice is moot form an HR perspective. No question was asked if HR people were gay or if they supported the lifestyle. Yes I too am guilty of, in a small way, engaging in such off topic rhetoric. I’ve heard no gay person attack any straight person on this thread; it has been the other way around.

    Where-as we all are different for different reasons our main focus in the work place is not to ‘save’ people from themselves. It is to apply employment law regardless of our personal stance on any particular social issue. Let’s look back for a moment. I can remember when women were not allowed in fire service. I had to get beyond the social belief of the time and guess what they are doing great. I was the third person hired as a minority in 1972 in the fire service here. Others had to get over that. Gays in the work place have always been there. The only difference is that sometimes now we know who they are. So what. Our job is to protect the employer and to protect employee rights regardless of who they are or who we think they should be.

  • David

    Kathleen: If you weren’t saying “anything” why bother to post at all???

  • Beth Lovell

    My comment is not about the “gay” situation, but it reminded me of another situation I had regarding Sexual Harassment. An employee was working with a women co-worker and he told the VP (who was the manager on duty) that he “could not work like this”. The VP/manager said “Like what?”. The employee said “with another women”. “What if something happens and I get accused of sexually harassing her”? The VP/manager said ” OK, I’ll check in on you every 15 minutes to be sure nothing is going on. I agree with you that you have to be very careful in today’s workplace and you are correct in fearing that something might happen”.

    Needless to say, when I came in the next morning and heard about this I was very worried! The VP/Manager could not see anything wrong with what he did and the employee told me “the VP said I was right in being worried”. All I could do was tell the employee that the VP was only talking that way because i wasn’t there to help – good save, but that could have been a lot more serious.

    Does anyone have any advice on this one? The VP still thinks that we all “need to be careful” and he sees nothing wrong in what he said and did. am I missing something?

    Beth

  • MG

    This one is very tricky, as men may fear reversal discrimination. If a woman wanted to claim sexual harassment because they were inclined that way, and it does happen I’m sure of it, the man would not have a leg to stand on. What type of proof does a woman have to give to claim this and what type of defence does a man have to keep away form this. The only thing I can think of is cameras everywhere execpt the washrooms. Yes, I am a woman.

  • mike R

    To John:
    “However it IS the job of HR to take sides persay. If your aapproach does not work you have to become an advocate for employment law. By default you then must take sides with the individual that falls on the side of employment law.”

    I agree, but this is the difficulty that all HR Directors must deal with. What does “employment law” dictate? What are ALL the facts? The HR professional must suspend his/her tendency to “know” what is going on and to dig deeper. Usually, by the time a problem gets to HR it has had some time to “ferment.” There are usually issues on both side. I would be willing to believe that John has some issues with Dan’s supervision and that Dan can find issues with John’s performance. Many times this becomes a problem of “which came first, the chicken or the egg.” Or who is MOST right. From an HR perspective, we can set boundaries on behavior, but have a hard time dictating how people feel and think. The root of the problem lies in perceptions, biases, and attitudes which have been formed through hard fought personal experiences.

    Generally the first step is to identify the behavioral expectations, but without dealing with the real problem, then it will resurface later. Over the years, I find that we MORE in common than differences. We share the same hopes and fears. When trying to resolve such issues, it is more than a one shot thing. It’s a process that is based on communication and trust building. Unfortunately, sometimes one or both party’s fears are so great that they are unable to engage, the HR professional lacks the skills and training to facilitate, or there isn’t enough time. In such instances, I generally encourage the employee’s to utilize our EAP program to continue the process and stress the behavioral expectations and the employment consequences.

    My experience is that about 50% are able to work through their fears and intolerance. The other 50% either leave voluntarily or fail to follow the behavioral guidelines given them and are terminated.

  • mike R

    To MG: “The only thing I can think of is cameras everywhere execpt the washrooms.”

    We tend to get stuck on the LEGAL and Behavioral issues when defining the problem. The REAL problem so far is that the employee is AFRAID and lacks trust in his co-worker that they won’t claim harassment. So the manager needs to find away to build trust and teamwork between these two workers. This could be as simple as calling the employees together to discuss any problems or issues on the job to problem solve them. In the process, the HR professional can see if there is a problem on both sides and generally working through job issues tends to build trust and teamwork.

    The camera and the VP checking in, generally tends to sew distrust and can lead to further problems.

  • http://www.hozhoni.com Scott M

    Give Dan diversity training. If he refuses the training, or still refuses to work w/ John, let Dan walk and promote John if he’s qualified.

  • John

    mike R Says:

    March 31st, 2009 at 12:26 pm
    To John:
    “However it IS the job of HR to take sides persay. If your aapproach does not work you have to become an advocate for employment law. By default you then must take sides with the individual that falls on the side of employment law.”

    I agree, but this is the difficulty that all HR Directors must deal with. What does “employment law” dictate? What are ALL the facts? The HR professional must suspend his/her tendency to “know” what
    is going on and to dig deeper.”
    ____________________________
    Agree

    Mike R
    “. . . The root of the problem lies in perceptions, biases, and attitudes which have been formed through hard fought personal experiences.”
    _____________________________

    Also agree but here is where you have really made the best point. These are the things that actions are based upon. It is at this point that the list above becomes relevant. As you have stated we in HR cannot buy into those perceptions and must take stands regardless of those perceptions that people may feel strongly about but still violate employment law.

    Mike R
    “Generally the first step is to identify the behavioral expectations, but without dealing with the real problem, then it will resurface later. Over the years, I find that we MORE in common than differences. We share the same hopes and fears. When trying to resolve such issues, it is more than a one shot thing. It’s a process that is based on communication and trust building. Unfortunately, sometimes one or both party’s fears are so great that they are unable to engage, the HR professional lacks the skills and training to facilitate, or there isn’t enough time. In such instances, I generally encourage the employee’s to utilize our EAP program to continue the process and stress the behavioral expectations and the employment consequences.”
    _________________________

    I find the issues of discrimination and the lack of social skills or HR professional skills to deal with them quite different indeed. Yes EAP has a place to offer personal assistance to the problemed employee but that is not a panacea to standing firm on behavioral expectations. The employee’s agreement or even understanding of the expectations is not a requirement.

    Employment law can be found under Title VII or any of the other titles. It is FLSA, FMLA, DOL, and many other statutes or court cases that have been placed in our civil judicial system for years. It is not hard to find case law to apply to most any situation. No, I am not a strict advocate of pulling the law out if alternative solutions can be found. But it is not the employee’s responsibility; it is the responsibility of HR to mitigate those circumstances before they turn into a lawsuit.

  • John

    Beth Lovell Says:

    March 31st, 2009 at 12:09 pm
    My comment is not about the “gay” situation, but it reminded me of another situation I had regarding Sexual Harassment. An employee was working with a women co-worker and he told the VP (who was the manager on duty) that he “could not work like this”. The VP/manager said “Like what?”. The employee said “with another women”. “What if something happens and I get accused of sexually harassing her”? The VP/manager said ” OK, I’ll check in on you every 15 minutes to be sure nothing is going on. I agree with you that you have to be very careful in today’s workplace and you are correct in fearing that something might happen”.
    ___________________________________________

    This is very, very wrong. The VP for whatever reason is sending the message that any female employee cannot be trusted. He is presenting a tactic that will tie up resources to monitor literally nothing, set in motion an mistrust between the male and female staff and place an unfair burden on the female employee because of someone else’s insecurities. Would this have happened if the employee were white male? What if the compliant was about someone that had a disability or was of a different ethnic group? Would the VP cast active suspicions on everyone else the same as he did concerning the female employee?

    I understand trust building. But trust building is only part of the employee dynamic. Cowing to such complaints and aiding and abetting such issues by an employee’s frivolous complaint or insecurities do not help resolve anything. This was wrong and somebody should explain that to the VP, perhaps as I have, about why it is wrong.

  • mike R

    To John:
    “It is not hard to find case law to apply to most any situation. No, I am not a strict advocate of pulling the law out if alternative solutions can be found. But it is not the employee’s responsibility; it is the responsibility of HR to mitigate those circumstances before they turn into a lawsuit.”

    I agree that HR needs to mitigate the circumstances. I also agree that there is plenty of case law out there. That is the bread and butter of lawyers, to find case law supporting their point of view while the other lawyers do the same. HR deals with the real “gray” areas and is in the best position (compared to judges and lawyers) to identify the REAL issues facing their work force (fears, concerns, personal problems, etc.). Most people DO NOT want to go to court. They generally do if they feel that they have been dismissed, they are RIGHT, and they are angry. HR can go a long way to mitigate these issues by being impartial and working on all the issues.

    To John: “This is very, very wrong. The VP for whatever reason is sending the message that any female employee cannot be trusted.”
    Actually, I don’t find a lot of fault with the VP. I don’t read his actions the same as you. The employee expressed concern (fear) that the female co-worker might file a harassment claim and he had no way to defend himself. The VP basically said he would be more present to monitor the situation so that any issues could be dealt with early. This may have been a way to deal directly with the employee’s fear that he would not be able to defend himself. What the VP failed to do was to take a closer look at the situation, ask the first employee what had happened that made them fearful, talk to both employees to find out if there are any problems, AND monitor the situation to see how these employees really interact.

  • John

    mike R
    Actually, I don’t find a lot of fault with the VP. I don’t read his actions the same as you. The employee expressed concern (fear) that the female co-worker might file a harassment claim and he had no way to defend himself. The VP basically said he would be more present to monitor the situation so that any issues could be dealt with early. This may have been a way to deal directly with the employee’s fear that he would not be able to defend himself. What the VP failed to do was to take a closer look at the situation, ask the first employee what had happened that made them fearful, talk to both employees to find out if there are any problems, AND monitor the situation to see how these employees really interact.

    The second failure here is a HR manager that does not see what has really happened here. If not the HR manager becomes complacent in the wrong done to the female employee.
    _______________________________________

    Mike I thought about this for several days now. I have to say that I disagree completely that all the VP was doing was taking care of anothre’s fear. No sir, he was wrong flat out. If in fact it is assumed that he did not do what you suggest, ask what happened that made the man fearful, serves to compound his wrong. A VP cannot simply assume that a female or any other person or protected class is to be feared and then without any cause, move in such a manner that he tacitly agrees that the person is some sort of ‘danger’ effectively casting suspicion on the innocent employee. This wrong on several different levels all the way to the point that the female male have a prima facia case for a hostile work atmosphere. No sir, I can’t agree on any level that the VP handled this correctly. It would seem the HR manager needs classes in diversity along with the male employee. From the story all that has happened is that the female showed up for work.

  • mike R

    John: This posting seems to have crossed threaded with a different one dealing with gay diversity. I went back to read the original story with the male who had problems working with a female employee and I couldn’t find it.

    I agree that the VP working with the male employee who had difficulty working with a female employee could have done things better and probably could benefit from some diversity awareness training. It just seems to me that his response was typical of most managers trying to do the right thing. Certainly he left the guy with a feeling that he was “right” and that management had his back. But I’m not convinced that the VP meant that. The VP may be saying that he will pay more attention to what was going on to protect both employee’s. Again, I would expect the VP after checking the situation out more, to call the employee’s in to resolve the matter.

  • Judy Buckley

    To Life What? I agree withyour post. Just a note – being gay is not a choice, not a “lifestyle” – and not a “preference” either – that word indicates choice. I believe the term should be “orientation” – and I believe people are born with whatever orientation they’re going to have. In any case, semantics aside, every employee deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I know, also, at least some churches view homosexual acts as sinful, but not simply having homosexual orientation. In other words, treat everyone with dignity. What goes on away from work is the person’s private business.

  • John

    Judy Buckley
    “I know, also, at least some churches view homosexual acts as sinful, but not simply having homosexual orientation.”
    ________________________________________

    That is an interesting observation and insightful distinction. I have had discussions on that very point but more times than not have failed to get people to see the legitimacy of just such a distinction. Insight is an effective HR tool. The relevance of HR people recognizing this distinction is that by having such insight HR can help others feel more comfortable; effectively handling the total problem in a wholelistic manner.

  • HR-n-TX

    CH – I just wanted to note to while sexual orientation is not protected under federal law (Title VII) many states do include sexual orientation in their protected classes. Like most issues a good HR person must consider both federal and state (and even local) implications before acting.

    Also, while people are entitled to religious accommodations the threshold for undue burden on the ER is much lower than with say an ADA request. I think the ER would not have much of a problem overcoming that objection, especially in a state with protections for gay and lesbians.

  • Chris

    Is anybody asking the employee to sleep with him? He is just being asked to work together. Dan doens’t have a legitimate request and I would deny it. Let him file (what suit? that he doens’t want to work with gays?) Let the guy walk!

  • http://medfordforum.com Joseph

    Cindy started off wrong. She came to John’s defense and put Dan in a position requiring him to defend himself and his own lifestyle (based on religion, sexuality, etc).

    Inclusionary policies should not favor or promote homosexuals and exclude people with moral and religious values. Dan is doing what he feels is right, and he’s going through proper channels to deal with his issue. It’s his attitude towards his religious beliefs that likely gets him to work on time every day and that got him the promotion to supervisor. Someone with high moral character should be favored within a company, not told to act ignorant and work in opposition to his moral convictions. Ask Dan what it is about John, that makes him an obvious homosexual.

    If he mentions things like talking about sexual relationships, hitting on other employees, watching or winking in a way that makes others feel uncomfortable, wearing clothing in a way that violates dress code or acting inappropriately in the restroom, a particular constant odor, etc., then it should be adressed. There are likely other employees who have the same sentiments as Dan, but who are not as willing to be open about it. If John’s behavior might cause others to leave, especially a supervisor, which would possibly free up an opening for John’s advancement, then Dan’s concerns should be escalated.

    How strongly does Dan feel about working with John? Think about this from Dan’s perspective. Is a homosexual to him the equivalent of a pedophile or a bestial to you? How does John feel about the work that counselors or prison guards do? How does he feel about working with satanists, alcoholics/drug-abusers, etc. if it doesn’t prevent them from doing a good job at work? Should people who do immoral things be not allowed to also contribute to society or a company? Should they be cut off from means to supply themselves with food and shelter? Again, how serious is this to Dan?

    Ask Dan what he thinks should be done about this situation? Can he come up with any immediate solutions or does he ned some time to think about it? Maybe something can be worked out that would be agreeable with his moral code. Find out, and if it’s legal and ethical for the situation, try to do it. John may never have to be involved.

    If a solution can’t be reached without John’s involvement, ask John if he is willing to accommodate Dan’s proposal (while still keeping Dan’s confidentiality if needed). The best option is for Dan to feel that he is being treated fairly and that his job/company is one that he can be proud of. Don’t be afraid to tell John to take a hike if he is disrupting work, not getting along well with others, clashing or in opposition with the company culture or doesn’t show up to work because of his lifestyle/sexual choices. If he’s not a fit, he’s not a fit – even if he can produce the same end product on the line.

    Business isn’t always solely about making a dollar or producing a product; sometimes a company cares for its people or was created specifically to accommodate a certain belief or moral code. An end product may be a bi-product of a synergy that can’t exist in a completely diverse and unfocused/non-specializing environment. Every company is different, needs to work within the bounds of local and federal law, and should be able to thrive on ethics and shared values.

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