Oregon Expands Employment Discrimination Laws to Protect Sexual Orientation
April 24, 2007
Last week the Oregon Senate cleared the way for Governor Kulongoski to sign into law the Oregon Equality Act, also known as Senate Bill 2.
The Oregon Equality Act expands the Oregon statute on employment discrimination to include "sexual orientation" as a protected status. The new law makes it an unlawful employment practice to refuse to hire, to discharge, or to discriminate in compensation or terms of employment on the basis of sexual orientation. While it remains to be seen how courts will interpret this Act to extend to transsexual or transgendered employees, employers, out of an abundance of caution, should treat these individuals as falling under the Act.
The Act contains an exception permitting religious institutions to take employment actions based on a bona fide religious belief concerning sexual orientation under certain circumscribed situations. It also permits employers to enforce a dress code policy so long as the employer provides, on a case-by-case basis, for reasonable accommodation of an individual based on the health and safety needs of that individual. This likely means that employers are not required to permit cross-dressing or transvestitism.
Employers should immediately review and revise policies and procedures on discrimination, as necessary, now that Oregon's law on employment discrimination has been expanded. Furthermore, employers should add training against discrimination based on sexual orientation to their personnel training programs.