Is it illegal for your employer to ask about your sexual orientation?

Frank S. Clowney III

Many companies, in an effort to be inclusive and diverse, send out “voluntary requests” for their employees to answer very intimate and personal questions about their race, gender, marital status and sexual orientation.

The company assures employees that the information is only used in aggregate and will be used to ensure that the company is doing its part to hire a diverse team. You are told that no adverse action will be taken against you should you decline to answer. You do not have to answer. But should you?

When to answer personal questions on the job

If you believe that you may be subject to discrimination due to your sexual orientation or identity then it may benefit you to identify as a person who is in a protected class. This way, if you are discriminated against, and you feel that it is because of your sexual orientation or identity, there is evidence that your employer knew you were a member of a protected class and acted nonetheless. There are 22 states and the District of Columbia where it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. California is one of these states.

You may have other reasons for identifying your sex, sexual orientation and identity at work. You may want your employer and coworkers to know who you are and love so that you don’t feel you have to hide anything. You may also be interested in knowing if your employer is in fact making an effort in being more inclusive.

What is illegal under EEOC rules

Your company or boss cannot legally discriminate against you because of your race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity, pregnancy, national origin, or because you are over 40, have a disability or because of your genetics. You should not be denied a job, promotion or role because of any of these characteristics. You also cannot be placed into a job or role because you have been stereotyped due to possessing one of those traits.

Additionally, an employer cannot ask questions about your accent, height or weight, if you have ever been arrested (they may run a background check), your credit score (besides a one-time credit check), whether you smoke or drink (but they can ask if you take illegal drugs). An employer cannot ask when you graduated because they are really asking you how old you are.

If you feel you have been discriminated against keep detailed records of what was done or said by whom and when. Contact your company’s HR department. You can also talk to an employment law attorney about your issue to better understand your rights.