Thursday, July 05, 2007

Things an Employer Can Do and Cannot Do

I just read a news article about a court case in which an employer, who is Christian, fired one of his employers because the employer discovered his employee to be gay. The employer is citing religious freedom as his defense. The attorney defending the fired employee said that "People who hold those views (that gay people are sinners and are going to hell) have to know that they can't act on them with regard to employment." What he probably could have said that was more clear was, "You can believe anything you want, but those beliefs cannot infringe upon the rights of an employee, if those rights are protected by law." See. This is more clear.

If you are an employer, you can fire someone for dishonesty (lying, cheating, or stealing). You can terminate an employee if they don't show up for work, or if they don't do their work, or if the word they do is below specified standards of productivity. You can fire someone for disrespect, dishonoring the ethics of the company, or causing mischief (as long as the mischief is spelled out and defined in the employees handbook).

As an employer in New York and New Jersey, you cannot fire someone because they are an atheist, a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim. They might be going to hell but, even if they are and you hire them (you cannot refuse to hire someone of a different religion either, but that's another post), you cannot fire them for it. You cannot legally fire someone if they are an African American (or an African, for that matter). You cannot fire someone because they are fat, or too thin (like whoever would do that, right?), or bald. You cannot fire someone who has a disability (including HIV). You cannot fire a person from France, England, Russia, Mexico, or any other country (immigration rules aside). And, you cannot fire someone based on their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), a person who works and does their job has a right to have that job protected. As simple minded as this sounds, in 31 states in the USAmerica, an employer has the right to terminate an employee if that employee is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (actually 39 states can fire you if you're transgender).

In New York and New Jersey, we honor the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., as it applies to the LBGT community, when he said in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, "I have a dream that one day my children will live in a land where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." It's unfortunate that not every state honors the visions of its prophets.

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