On January 31 of this year, the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) was modified to include sexual orientation as a protected class against employment discrimination. The provisions became effective on June 7. In the WLAD, sexual orientation is defined as “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender expression or identity”. “Gender expression or identity” is further defined as having or being perceived as having a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.” Employers may not: 1) refuse to hire; 2) discharge or bar from employment; 3) discriminate in employment terms or compensation; 4) make inquiries about sexual orientation in hiring; 5) permit harrassment creating a hostile work environment; and 6) retaliate against an individual who has opposed a practice forbidden by the WLAD. For many employers, this change in the WLAD will not affect their current policies and practices. That being said, employers must be particularly aware of biases among employees and clearly communicate company policies to ensure a respectful, inclusive work environment. In addition, it is critical to monitor hiring, promotion, and disciplinary decisions to ensure decisions are made in compliance with the WLAD.
Author: Michelle Bomberger, Bellevue Business Attorney