Ask the HR Expert — September 5, 2017

by Jill Schaefer on August 30, 2017

Q: Are there legal ramifications for requiring a heterosexual employee to room with a homosexual employee when they’re both on business travel for our company?

A: This is certainly a complicated question with several facets — I can see why you contacted KPA’s Ask the HR Expert Advice Line for help!

Let’s begin with issue #1: employers can’t inquire about an employee’s sexual orientation. Now that we’ve put that out there, we’ll presume you obtained the information organically from the employees. Technically, if one of the employees objected to the travel accommodations, you could still have the two of them share a hotel room. However, it’s not recommended. Requiring employees to room together, regardless of their sexual orientations, could still be a legal issue.

In addition, a similar caution applies to female and male employees who room together. A prominent airline recently opened itself up to litigation when it forced opposite sex crew members to share hotel rooms and a sexual harassment claim resulted from it.

Think of it this way: sharing a room with a stranger tends to be awkward. You’re asking your employees to be professionals and know each other in a professional manner. Having them share a room may change the context of their relationship and potentially cross the boundary from professional to personal.

Remember, it’s important for your organization to be respectful of your employees and their sexual orientations. In addition, it is imperative to know and abide by anti-discrimination laws. Be sensitive about employee room arrangements, regardless of individuals’ sex or orientation, when they’re traveling on company business.

Bottom Line: From a practical point of view, we recommend against the practice of forcing people to room together. It could lead to a harassment claim or other types of claims.

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Jill SchaeferAsk the HR Expert — September 5, 2017