India Inc ready to make workplace more inclusive for LGBT individuals

The Supreme Court judgement decriminalising certain sections of 377 of the Indian Penal Code has put corporate India into an introspective mood.  Even though India Inc has gone out of its way to welcome the judgement, HR experts and employment lawyers point out that most businesses have to tweak their workplace rules to walk the talk.    

Most MNCs and large Indian conglomerates said they already are an equal opportunities employer and do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion, caste, race, nationality or sexual orientation. “Post this judgment, we may have to reconsider specifics in policies to more openly accept certain kind of relationships that seemed illegal earlier,” said Santrupt Mishra, HR head for Aditya Birla group.  For most companies this would mean extending medical coverage to same-sex partners, say legal experts.  

“As an equal opportunity employer, we believe that being inclusive and allowing people to be themselves, truly brings out the best in them. We strive to maintain a work environment that is free from any harassment,” said a Hindustan Unilever spokesperson.

According to Anuranjita Kumar, managing director & Head HR, International Hubs, The Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank was the first to introduce a medical cover for same-sex partners. “We see this as just the beginning of more job opportunities for the community,” said Kumar.

Godrej group, which already has an anti-discrimination policy in place, is contemplating extending health insurance benefits to same-sex partners in the future. “The corporate world is the ground on which the next victory for equal rights will be won,” said Parmesh Shahani, head, Godrej India Culture Lab.

The advertising fraternity is already ahead of the curve when it comes to making the workplace friendly and fair for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. According to Shashi Sinha, chief executive officer, IPG Mediabrands India the group already follows an inclusive policy as part of our global charter. “We do not discriminate on the basis gender or sexual orientation,” he said.

Arun Nanda, chairman, Rediffusion said the firm already extends mediclaim benefits to same-sex partners. However, the challenge going forward for companies will be to tackle the mindset issues at workplace, he said.

Hotelier Keshav Suri (left), one of the petitioners in the Section 377 case, celebrates the Supreme Court verdict | PHOTO: PTI
Legal experts point out that decriminalising of Section 377 does not create an obligation on companies to have gender-neutral policies.  “Unless the Sexual Harassment Act is amended to protect male employees or other genders, companies will not be mandated to make gender-neutral policies by virtue of this judgment alone,” said Atul Gupta, partner, Trilegal. According to Vikram Shroff, head, employment law, Nishith Desai Associates, one of the earliest impact would be to include a column on ‘others’ or ‘neither’ in the gender column of the application form. “Such disclosures may also trigger workplaces needing to make necessary adjustments and effectively prohibit discrimination, bullying, abuse, etc,” he added. 

However, Kumar of RBS does not agree with the idea. “Social mindsets take long time to change. Though people would be more accepting of people with different facial orientation, or with people publicly out of the closet but it is not something I would ask on a CV,” she said.

With inputs from Viveat Susan Pinto, Dev Chatterjee and Priyadarshini Maji

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