December 7, 2016

An Update on Utah’s Antidiscrimination & Religious Liberty Bill

An Update on Utah’s Antidiscrimination & Religious Liberty bill

 

In 2015, Utah was heralded as successfully enacting a “monumental” state bill to strike some sort of balance between religious groups and members of the LGBTQ community in regards to employment. The bill, signed into law in May 2015, provides certain employment protections for a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These protected classes were added to protections that already existed for protected classes of race, color, gender, national origin, age, disability, and religion. Under these protections, employers are prohibited from taking adverse employment actions because of an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This prohibition applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.

The state agency charged with investigating and adjudicating claims under this state statute is the Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division (“UALD”). In the past year, about 30 complaints based on gender identity and sexual orientation have been filed with the UALD. Even though 30 complaints in one year seem relatively low, 30 complaints is an increase from the 6-12 complaints that have been the average in past years. The UALD expects the number of complaints regarding sexual orientation and gender identity to continue to increase as more employees become aware of these new state protections.

So, what should employers know as this area of the law continues to develop? Employers are not prohibited from adopting reasonable dress and grooming standards, provided that the employer’s dress and grooming standards afford reasonable accommodations based on gender identity to all employees. Employers are also not prohibited from adopting reasonable rules and policies that designate sex-specific facilities, including restrooms, shower facilities, and dressing facilities, provided the rules and policies afford reasonable accommodations based on gender identity to all employees.

What does this have to do with religious liberties? Within this bill, the State has afforded a new level of protection for freedom of expression, both at and outside of the workplace. An employee may express the employee’s religious or moral beliefs and commitments in the workplace in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way, unless the expression is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer. In addition, an employer may not take an adverse action against any person otherwise qualified, for lawful expression outside of the workplace regarding the person’s religious, political, or personal convictions, including convictions about marriage, family, or sexuality, unless the expression is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer.

Whether your current employment handbooks need to be updated to include these protected classes, or you need advice on whether your dress and grooming standards are in compliance with this law, Strong & Hanni’s employment attorneys are here to help you. Please contact a member of the Labor & Employment Practice Group if you have questions.

 

Ashley F. Leonard, Esq.