Sending LGBTQ Employees Abroad Poses Challenges, Requires Planning

Expatriate assignments for LGBTQ employees require added attention and preparation aimed at helping them cope with the potentially hostile environments they can face while living and working overseas, according to Jennifer White, manager of consulting services at Cartus, a Danbury, Conn.-based relocation company. 

Expat assignments can be challenging under any circumstances, but the risks can be far greater for LGBTQ employees. Over 70 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, and being gay or lesbian is punishable by death in at least five nations. 

Even in locations where homosexuality is legal, the individual can encounter a host of issues, such as: 

  • difficulty in obtaining visas for themselves or their same-sex partners;
  • lack of legal protections from discrimination in the workplace;
  • no recognition of their parental rights; or
  • being met with fear, anger, or resistance by coworkers or the community.

Given these challenges, human resources professionals need to be knowledgeable about places where homosexuality is frowned upon and adopt expat policies that address the potential obstacles. 

One pitfall employers must avoid is assuming they have no LGBTQ employees, as sometimes these individuals do not self-identify. Educating employees about potential LGBTQ risks as early as possible in the interview process can help ensure that everyone involved will make an informed and appropriate decision regarding overseas assignments.

Steps for Smooth Sailing Overseas  

Other steps that can make overseas assignments successful for LGBQT employees include: 

  • Create inclusive policies. Devising relocation policies that are inclusive in wording can help ensure consistency across all mobility initiatives globally. It can also help employees feel comfortable self-identifying as LGBTQ.
  • Make benefits flexible. Relocation policies should define the family unit using the term "spouse/domestic partner" rather than "husband and wife" to give the company more flexibility in granting benefits to LGBTQ workers. In countries where same-sex partnerships are unlawful, some employers offer additional home leave benefits or commuter-style arrangements in which the employee’s family resides in a nearby country.
  • Have a single point of contact. Assigning a case manager to be the sole point of contact for the employee throughout the assignment can make it easier for the individual to openly raise questions and concerns. This arrangement may also alleviate the pressure on LGBTQ employees to share information about their lives and relationships with their managers who may not be aware of their personal circumstances.
  • Provide LGBTQ-specific information. Employers should develop a database of country-specific information that addresses laws impacting LGBTQ employees. Employers may also want to develop forums where LGBTQ personnel can share their international experiences and act as a support network for other LGBTQ employees and their families.Many companies also hireservice providers in the host country to assist with networking, find support organizations, and locate LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods.

 By taking these types of initiatives with regard to policies and practices for expat assignments, HR professionals can overcome obstacles associated with LGBTQ overseas postings and help their organizations avoid unnecessary costs and legal problems. In turn, these postings can help boost employee satisfaction and retention and serve as an effective recruiting tool.

Get additional details and suggestions in the report titled " International Relocation and the LGBTQ Community ," which is one of the many resources available with International HR Decision Support Network (subscription required). Start your free trial today!