Facebook pixel
Skip to Main Content

Your Rights When Coming Out At Work

Co Workers Together At Work

As an LGBTQ person in the workforce, you may wonder whether or not to publicly come out at work. While there are definite benefits to being out and proud in your workplace, it may also lead to incidents of harassment and hostility. 

According to a survey done by the Center for American Progress in 2022, nearly one-third of LGBTQ adults had experienced discrimination in the year prior. This illustrates the unfortunate reality that LGBTQ workers must be aware of their rights in the face of harassment and discrimination at work. You have the right not to be discriminated against due to your sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are ways to get recourse if it does happen. 

This article will dive into everything you need to know about coming out at work. Whether you are considering coming out, have already done so, or want to support LGBTQ+ colleagues, you must understand your rights. We aim to equip you with the knowledge to navigate the workplace confidently and proudly. 

Should I Come Out At Work? 

Whether or not to come out at work is a profoundly personal decision. Some people like to bring their “whole selves” to work, proudly discussing their home lives and personal preferences. Others prefer to play things close to the chest, keeping their work and “real selves” separate. 

The LGBTQ community is evenly split on this – a survey done by the Williams Institute of UCLA found that 50% of LGBTQ people are not out to their supervisors at work. Additionally, 26% are not out to any of their coworkers and colleagues. So whatever you choose to do, you’re in good company.  

Consider several factors when deciding whether to come out at work. One is your own comfort level with being publicly out; if you don’t like the idea of your coworkers knowing you are LGBTQ, it’s entirely fine to keep it to yourself. However, if you trust your colleagues and believe being publicly out could benefit you in the long run, coming out could be a great idea. Also, think about how long you have been at the workplace; if you are familiar with your team and the company dynamics, you may feel more comfortable coming out than if you are brand-new to the job. 

Navigating Workplace Policies and Culture

When considering coming out at work, it’s crucial to understand your company’s stance on diversity and inclusion. These policies often outline the company’s approach to non-discrimination, harassment, and creating an inclusive work environment. They serve as a roadmap for how LGBTQ issues are handled and can be a critical factor in your decision to come out at work.

Also, get familiar with your colleagues in human resources. HR departments are not just for hiring and firing; they also ensure employees feel safe and respected. HR can be your first point of contact if you decide to come out. They can provide guidance on company policies, support you through any challenges that may arise, and serve as a liaison between you and your colleagues if needed. Remember, HR supports all employees, ensuring the rights and well-being of LGBTQ staff are upheld.

Analyzing your company’s culture is key in deciding whether to come out at work. Look beyond official policies to the everyday interactions and attitudes within your workplace. Observe how diversity is treated: Are differences celebrated? Do colleagues and management show respect and support for all, including LGBTQ people? The presence of LGBTQ+ networks or allies and the way LGBTQ topics are discussed can be telling indicators of an inclusive environment.

Your role in shaping this culture is crucial. If you’re already out, sharing your experiences can foster inclusivity. As an ally, showing respect and support for LGBTQ+ colleagues is vital. Your actions create an environment beyond adherence to non-discrimination policies, embracing true diversity and inclusivity. Observing social dynamics, understanding your rights, and engaging with HR and diversity initiatives are essential for contributing to a welcoming workplace for everyone, including LGBTQ employees.

Two People Holding Hands

Legal Protections for LGBT Employees

If you come out at work, several laws protect your right to be treated kindly and fairly. Here’s a quick overview of your written legal protections as an LGBTQ employee. 

Federal Laws

At the federal level, the cornerstone of legal protection for LGBT employees is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although it initially did not explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity, recent rulings like Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020 have extended these protections. This ruling affirmed that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of sex discrimination and thus prohibited under Title VII. This means employers cannot legally fire, refuse to hire, or discriminate against an individual in terms and conditions of employment based on their LGBT status.

Other federal statutes and executive orders also offer protections besides Title VII. For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws against workplace discrimination, providing guidance and recourse for LGBT employees facing discrimination.

Furthermore, Executive Order 13087, signed in 1998, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal workforce. This was further strengthened by Executive Order 13672 in 2014, which included gender identity, ensuring comprehensive non-discrimination protections within federal employment.

State and Local Laws 

While federal laws provide a foundational layer of protection, state and local laws regarding LGBT rights in the workplace can vary dramatically. Several states have enacted comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that explicitly include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. These laws often extend protections beyond those offered at the federal level, covering smaller employers not subject to federal laws and providing additional mechanisms for addressing discrimination.

In California, LGBTQ workers are afforded comprehensive legal protections beyond federal mandates. The state is recognized for having some of the most progressive laws in the U.S. regarding LGBTQ rights in the workplace. 

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is particularly noteworthy; it prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, among other protected categories. This law applies to public and private employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies and covers various employment practices, including hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages, and benefits. 

Your Rights When Coming Out at Work

As you consider coming out at work, it’s crucial to understand your fundamental right to non-discrimination. This right ensures that you are treated equally and fairly, irrespective of your sexual orientation or gender identity, in all aspects of employment.

The Right to Non-Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity can take many forms, from overt actions like wrongful termination or denial of promotion to more subtle forms such as exclusion from team activities or unequal pay for similar work. The law protects against these practices, ensuring that all employees, regardless of their LGBTQ status, are treated equally. 

Examples of discriminatory practices include refusal to hire someone based on their sexual orientation, harassment due to gender identity, or creating a hostile work environment for LGBTQ employees. The law prohibits these actions and mandates employers to take steps to prevent discrimination. This includes implementing anti-discrimination policies, conducting sensitivity training, and providing mechanisms for reporting and addressing discrimination complaints. Employers are responsible for creating an equitable workplace where all employees, regardless of their LGBTQ status, can work without fear of discrimination.

The Right to Privacy

The right to privacy for LGBTQ employees involves the confidentiality of their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. Employees have the right to choose if, when, and to whom they disclose this information. The law protects employees from being forced to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity and from unauthorized disclosure by others, such as employers or coworkers.

However, there are legal boundaries around these privacy rights. For instance, in certain circumstances, such as for the purpose of providing employee benefits, employers might need to know about an employee’s marital status or dependents, which could indirectly reveal their sexual orientation. Even in such cases, the information must be handled with strict confidentiality.

Balancing privacy rights with workplace policies is a delicate act. Employers must respect an employee’s right to privacy while ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination laws and maintaining an inclusive workplace culture. This balance is achieved by creating policies that protect employee privacy, training staff on these issues, and fostering an environment where employees feel safe to disclose their identity at their discretion.

Person Holding up Rainbow Flags

How To Come Out At Work 

So you know the law protects you if you come out at work, but how do you go through with it? 

Who to Come Out to First 

Deciding who to come out to first at work is a personal choice and can set the tone for your coming-out journey in the professional sphere. It’s often beneficial to start with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This could be a close colleague, a supportive supervisor, or a human resources representative, especially if they are known to be an ally or have experience with LGBTQ issues. Choosing an understanding and supportive person can provide an initial positive experience and help you navigate further steps in your coming-out process at work.

Another strategy is to assess who will most impact your work environment. For some, this might mean coming out to a team leader or manager first, as they can be crucial in setting the tone for your team’s response and ensuring that company policies are upheld. For others, starting with HR might be the best approach, especially if there are concerns about discrimination or if guidance is needed on company policies regarding LGBTQ+ rights.

Different Approaches To Coming Out At Work 

There are various ways to come out at work, and your approach should align with your comfort level and the workplace culture. Here are a few common methods:

  • One-on-One Conversations: This is a personal and direct approach, where you approach your colleagues individually. This can be a good option if you have close relationships with your coworkers and prefer a more intimate setting.
  • Group Announcement: This can be done in a team meeting or via a group email. It’s a straightforward way to inform everyone at once and can be effective in workplaces with a supportive culture. This approach can also be combined with a discussion facilitated by HR to educate and address any questions.
  • Utilizing Company Channels: Some may choose to come out through company channels like an internal newsletter or during a diversity and inclusion event. This approach can empower and make a statement about the company’s inclusiveness.
  • Gradual Approach: Alternatively, you may come out gradually, starting with a few colleagues and then telling others over time. This approach allows you to control the pace of your coming-out process.
  • Through Work-Related Changes: For some, especially transgender or non-binary employees, coming out may coincide with changes in name, pronoun, or appearance. In these cases, working with HR to communicate these changes can be an effective way of coming out.

Regardless of the method, it’s essential to be prepared for a range of reactions and to have a support system in place, whether it’s colleagues, an employee resource group, friends, or family. Remember, coming out at work is a significant step and should be done in a way that makes you feel the most comfortable and safe.

Challenges You May Face After Coming Out At Work

Coming out at work is a courageous step, but it’s not without its challenges. Understanding potential difficulties can help you prepare and develop strategies to navigate them effectively. Here are some common challenges you might encounter:

Varied Reactions from Colleagues

While many coworkers might be supportive, some may have less than positive reactions. These can range from overtly negative comments to more subtle changes in behavior, such as social exclusion or awkwardness. Preparing yourself for a spectrum of responses can help manage these reactions constructively.


These are subtle, often unintentional, actions or comments that can be hurtful or offensive. They may manifest as jokes, stereotypes, or even backhanded compliments. Being aware of these and developing strategies to address them, either through direct conversation or with the help of HR, is essential.

Misunderstandings or Lack of Awareness

Some coworkers may lack understanding or awareness about LGBTQ issues, leading to insensitive questions or comments. Educating others can be part of your journey, but remember, it’s not your responsibility to teach everyone. Decide how much you’re comfortable discussing and set boundaries as needed.

Impact on Professional Relationships and Opportunities

In some cases, coming out may impact your professional relationships or opportunities. While illegal, subtle discrimination can affect project assignments, promotions, or evaluations. Keeping records of your work performance and any instances of differential treatment can be helpful if you need to address potential discrimination.

Navigating Changes in Personal Identity at Work

For transgender and non-binary employees, coming out can involve transitioning at work. This may include changes in name, pronoun, or appearance. Navigating these changes can be complex and may require coordination with HR for official records and communication with your team.

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

After coming out, some may feel pressured to participate in LGBTQ+ initiatives or discussions more than they are comfortable with. It’s crucial to maintain a balance that feels right for you and not feel obligated to be a spokesperson or advocate unless you choose to be.

Two People Talking At Work

What Counts as a Hostile Work Environment for LGBTQ Employees? 

A hostile work environment for LGBTQ employees arises when conduct based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression becomes so pervasive or severe that it creates an atmosphere a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. This includes ongoing harassment, such as unwelcome remarks, jokes, slurs, or derogatory comments about a person’s LGBTQ status, whether verbal, physical, or visual. For a workplace to be considered hostile, these actions must be more than isolated incidents; they involve repeated conduct that degrades or shows hostility towards an individual.

The severity of the conduct is a key factor. It must be significant enough to impact the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, hindering the employee’s ability to perform their job effectively. Additionally, the behavior’s impact on the victim is considered – it’s not just the intent behind the actions but how they are received and their effect on the employee’s work environment. A company’s management can also exacerbate a hostile work environment if they fail to address such situations effectively, including not taking complaints seriously or lacking proper channels for reporting harassment.

The legal definition of a hostile work environment can vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific case law. However, these general criteria determine if a workplace qualifies as hostile under laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Employees who believe they are in such an environment should document incidents and seek guidance from HR, legal professionals, or employee assistance programs.

What To Do If Your Rights Are Violated

If you believe your rights as an LGBTQ employee have been violated, it’s essential to take steps to address the situation and seek recourse. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of any incidents that you believe constitute discrimination or a hostile work environment. This includes dates, times, places, what was said or done, and any witnesses. Documentation can be crucial in establishing a pattern of behavior and substantiating your claims.
  2. Review Your Company’s Policies and Procedures: Familiarize yourself with your employer’s anti-discrimination policies and the procedure for filing a complaint. Many companies have specific protocols for reporting and addressing workplace discrimination or harassment.
  3. Report the Incident: Depending on the nature of the violation and your comfort level, report the incident to your supervisor, human resources department, or designated point of contact within your organization. It’s important to follow your company’s procedures for reporting, but if you believe that internal channels are ineffective or biased, you might need to take additional steps.
  4. Seek Support: Reach out to support networks, whether they are LGBTQ+ groups within your company, external advocacy organizations, or legal assistance services. These resources can provide guidance, emotional support, and information about your rights and options.
  5. File a Complaint with Relevant Authorities: If your company fails to address the issue adequately, or if you face retaliation for reporting, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States. They will review your case and can investigate the allegations of discrimination.
  6. Consider Legal Action: If the issue is not resolved through internal processes or government agencies, consulting with a lawyer to explore the possibility of legal action may be necessary. An attorney specializing in LGBTQ rights can advise on the strength of your case and the best course of action.

Remember, every employee has the right to a safe and non-discriminatory work environment. Taking action stands up for your rights and creates a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture.

Resources for LGBTQ Workers

Legal Resources and Advocacy Groups

  • National LGBT Bar Association: The National LGBT Bar Association offers legal support and resources for LGBTQ individuals, including a directory of legal professionals. National LGBT Bar Association Legal Resources
  • GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD): GLAD works to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation. They offer legal resources and advocacy. GLAD
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR): NCLR provides a range of legal services and resources focusing on advancing the civil and human rights of LGBTQ people and their families. National LGBTQ Legal Aid Forum
  • Lambda Legal: Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of LGBTQ people and those living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. Lambda Legal
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): The ACLU works in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties of all people, including LGBTQ rights. ACLU LGBTQ Rights

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Resources

  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): SHRM provides various resources on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including articles, research papers, and toolkits. SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Resources
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC): HRC offers comprehensive resources focused on LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, including best practices for employers and corporate equality index reports. HRC Workplace Resources
  • National Organization on Disability (NOD): NOD focuses on increasing employment opportunities for unemployed Americans with disabilities. Their site offers employers resources on diversifying their workforce by including people with disabilities. National Organization on Disability
  • Project Include: This non-profit uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry. They offer a range of resources, including recommendations and reports, that are applicable across industries. Project Include

Mental Health and Counseling Services

  • The Trevor Project: An organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25. They offer a safe and supportive space with counseling services. The Trevor Project
  • National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN): An organization advocating for the mental wellness of queer and trans people of color (QTPoC). They offer a directory of mental health practitioners for QTPoC. NQTTCN
  • GLMA (Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality): Previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, GLMA provides resources and referrals for LGBTQ-friendly healthcare providers, including mental health specialists. GLMA
  • LGBT National Help Center: Offers confidential peer support, information, and resources, including a hotline and online chat for all ages of LGBTQ individuals, helping address the challenges and difficulties they might face. LGBT National Help Center

Educational Materials and Research

  • Out & Equal Workplace Advocates: This organization provides educational and advocacy resources for workplace equality. They offer a range of publications and toolkits focused on LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace. Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
  • Pride at Work: Affiliated with the AFL-CIO, Pride at Work represents LGBTQ union members and their allies. They provide educational materials, conduct research, and advocate for equitable workplaces. Pride at Work
  • The Williams Institute: A research center at UCLA Law School, The Williams Institute produces high-quality research on LGBT issues, including workplace discrimination, economic impact studies, and policy analysis. The Williams Institute
  • Catalyst – LGBTQ+ Workplace Issues: Catalyst offers research and tools on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace. Their resources include reports, infographics, and webinars that provide insights into the experiences of LGBTQ+ employees. Catalyst LGBTQ+ Workplace Issues

Community and Peer Support Networks

  • CenterLink: This is an international network of LGBTQ community centers. CenterLink acts as a bridge that connects people to a network of LGBTQ community centers for support, community, and advocacy. CenterLink
  • PFLAG: PFLAG is one of the oldest advocacy groups for LGBTQ people, their parents, families, and allies.. With over 400 chapters, it offers local support groups, resources, and advocacy initiatives. PFLAG
  • The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): GLSEN works to ensure that LGBTQ students can learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment. They offer support networks for students, educators, and families. GLSEN
  • Transgender Law Center (TLC): TLC offers legal resources and advocacy for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. They also provide community support and connection through various programs and initiatives. Transgender Law Center
  • Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): GLAAD works to promote understanding, increase acceptance, and advance equality for the LGBTQ community. They provide support through media advocacy and by promoting inclusive stories. GLAAD

FAQs About Coming Out at Work 

Is it legally safe to come out at work?

Yes, there are federal and, in some cases, state laws that protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been interpreted to include these protections.

How should I decide if I should come out at work?

Deciding to come out at work is a personal decision. Consider factors such as your comfort level with being out, the culture and policies of your workplace, and your relationship with your colleagues.

What should I do if I face discrimination at work after coming out?

Document any incidents of discrimination and report them according to your company’s policies. Seek support from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and, if necessary, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or consider legal action.

How can I understand my company’s stance on LGBTQ issues?

Review your company’s diversity and inclusion policies and observe how LGBTQ issues are treated in daily interactions. You can also talk to your HR department for more insight.

What are my privacy rights regarding my LGBTQ status at work?

You have the right to privacy concerning your sexual orientation and gender identity. Your employer must respect your choice to disclose and handle this information with confidentiality.

How can I come out at work?

There are various approaches, such as one-on-one conversations, group announcements, or utilizing company channels. Choose the method that aligns with your comfort level and workplace culture.

What are some challenges I might face after coming out at work?

Possible challenges include varied reactions from colleagues, microaggressions, misunderstandings, impacts on professional relationships, and maintaining a work-life balance.

What constitutes a hostile work environment for LGBTQ employees?

A hostile work environment is created by pervasive or severe conduct based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression that significantly impacts an employee’s ability to work.

Are there specific resources for LGBTQ workers?

Yes, there are numerous resources such as the National LGBT Bar Association, GLAD, The Trevor Project, and more, offering legal support, mental health services, and educational materials.

How can I support LGBTQ colleagues at work?

Be respectful and supportive, participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives, and ensure your team adheres to non-discrimination policies and fosters an inclusive environment.

***Disclaimer: This webpage has been crafted by Heidari Law Group solely for educational purposes. The content of this article aims to offer a broad comprehension of the law and does not constitute specific legal advice. By accessing this site and perusing its contents, no attorney-client relationship is established between you and any member of Heidari Law. Additionally, it’s important to note that the legal landscape is subject to continuous change, rendering some of the information provided herein potentially outdated or no longer applicable.

Sam Heidari

Free Case Evaluation 24/7

Contact Us




Rear-End Accidents


Sideswipe Accidents

$1.1 Million

Head-On Accidents

$2.0 Million

T-Bone Accidents

$1.0 Million

Single-Vehicle Accidents

Case Results

$3.3 Million

Motorcycle Accident

$2.0 Million

Car accident

$1.4 Million

Brain Injury

$1.1 Million

Motor Vehicle Accident





Contact Us

24/7 Free Case Evaluation