Non-Discrimination and Religious Freedom Act is Good for Business, Must be Thoughtfully Carried Out by Employers

The Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Act, which went into effect on May 12, prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also protects employees who want to express their religious or moral beliefs in the workplace “in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way.”

The bill is applicable across the state for all employers with 15 or more employees. The bill does not however deal with the question about whether a business can deny services because of religious beliefs, such as a wedding caterer who objects to serving food in a same-sex wedding. It also does not prohibit employers from putting in place reasonable dress and grooming standards or reasonable rules and policies regarding sex-specific facilities like restrooms and dressing rooms. Employers can base the provisions regarding dress and grooming standards and gender-specific facilities on an analysis of business need and accommodation that are already in use

Additionally, the bill implies that an employee who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds may possibly be required to work on a team with LGBT or other employees who do not oppose same-sex marriage. The bill, however, enables both employees to express their views on marriage in non-disruptive, non-harassing ways. Employers will have the onus to find a way to navigate this delicate balancing act. While it seems that for many employers, the religious or moral views of employees are unlikely to directly conflict with essential business-related interests, some employers may argue that off-duty employee participation in rallies or activities opposing the expansion of the rights of LGBT employees, for example, might be seen as being in direct conflict with the employer’s interests.

The Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Act is a signature development in the protection of LGBT employees against workplace discrimination and represents a thoughtful attempt to balance those protections with the religious and moral beliefs of employees. With change however, comes uncertainty, and employers must carefully consider how their workplace policies should be adapted or modified to address the new obligations arising from the bill.