Pharmacists Can Help Create a Safe, Tolerant Workplace for LGBTQ+ Employees

As we mark the second anniversary of Bostock v. Clayton County this month, let’s remember to treat each other with dignity, empathy, and respect, while we work together for a safer and more tolerant workplace.

This month marks the second anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that firing an individual for being gay or transgender violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This ruling holds important implications regarding discrimination on the basis of sex for employers, employees, and clients of covered entities, and warrants consideration as we mark the anniversary of this decision.

In this context, “sex” includes a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy status, and “discrimination on the basis of sex” involves unfavorable treatment of an individual because of these characteristics. A covered entity for the purpose of this discussion is one that has 15 or more employees.

Although it goes without saying that it is inappropriate to harass a person because of their sex, it is accurate to state that the law does not prohibit minor teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not frequent or serious. However, these unprohibited practices morph into harassmentif the behavior becomes frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment.

Workplace sexual harassment or discrimination is illegal, and it is independent of the sex of the victim and perpetrator as they may be of the same or different sex. Pharmacists may find themselves involved in such situations, and it is important to know how best to function in the workplace.

Pharmacists who are witnesses to workplace harassment or discrimination have a duty to stop it by either directly confronting the perpetrator or reporting it to an appropriate authority in the workplace. In most pharmacies, the appropriate authority may be the pharmacist-in-charge (PIC) or the PIC’s supervisor if the PIC is the perpetrator. Some entities may have special officials, offices, or outsourced help to whom such reports may be directly submitted. Pharmacists who work for private entities and experience discrimination from owners or other individuals in power may have little option but to utilize the other resources discussed towards the end of this article. Regardless, it is important to know the point of contact in advance if the need arises.

Reporting harassment or discrimination involves strict timelines that often depend on some characteristics of the covered entity. For instance, federal employees have 45 days to file a complaint and various states have different timelines for reporting. The important thing is to file a complaint immediately following an occurrence to avoid missing important deadlines and to bring undesirable workplace problems to light. A victim may want to keep a detailed written record of their complaint to include the date, time, place, name of perpetrator, eyewitnesses, the person to whom the complaint was made, details of the event, and other details.

Sexual discrimination and/or harassment complaints are serious, and the appropriate authorities should act on them as quickly as practicable. Most employees want to be heard and not dismissed or trapped in a convoluted process after they speak up.

After filing the complaint, the next phase is an attempt by the appropriate authority to resolve the issue at hand. Most covered entities have a written progressive disciplinary program that covers employee behavior. It is essential for every pharmacist to review this important document and be familiar with acceptable and unacceptable behavior in their setting. A well-written program is simple, delineates consequences for unacceptable behavior with minimal or no ambiguity, and victims as well as perpetrators may find this document useful as they navigate the complaint resolution process.

The best approach to resolving occurrences as discussed above is to handle them at the lowest possible level, which often involves the resolution process of the covered entity. But what if the perpetrator is the owner or a high official of a covered entity? Employees may seek the counsel of an attorney or call a field office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for guidance.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination, which encompasses all work situations including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. EEOC has more than 50 field offices all across the United States and exercises its authority to investigate charges of discrimination to determine whether discrimination has occurred. EEOC attempts to settle cases with covered entities if they make a determination of discrimination or exercise the option to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interest of the public.

As we mark the second anniversary of Bostock v. Clayton County this month, let’s remember to treat each other with dignity, empathy, and respect, while we work together for a safer and more tolerant workplace.