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Bank of America asks workers about sexual orientation

How about this for workplace privacy? People can still legally be fired for being gay. So why on earth would Bank of America want to survey its staff to disclose their sexual orientation? As you will see in the SF Gate article, the online survey can be traced to individual workstations, so it’s not an anonymous survey, and even worse, it is mandatory — “N/A” isn’t an option. If this is the way to develop a tolerance policy, it’s boneheaded. (SFGate):

Bank of America is urging its more than 175,000 employees to fill out an online survey about job satisfaction. Question 64 asks respondents to “indicate which one of the following best describes yourself.”

Clicking on the pull-down menu provides four choices:

— Heterosexual

— Bisexual

— Homosexual

— Transgendered

Human resources professionals say it’s highly unusual for a company of BofA’s size and stature to seek such information. Privacy advocates say that even though BofA insists all survey results are confidential, the reality is that online forms can be traced back to individual workstations. Employees within the bank say they’re afraid the information they provide could be used to generalize about the work habits of certain types of people.

Tara Burke, a BofA spokeswoman, said employees are free to leave the sexual-orientation question blank if they so choose, and they are told as much in the survey. But she said the bank hopes people will answer because it is “committed to fostering an inclusive environment.”

“We strive to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace where every associate is respected, empowered and rewarded for good work,” Burke said.

She declined to comment on why the survey’s pull-down menu doesn’t allow respondents the choice of saying that they’d prefer not to answer.

It’s against the law in California to ask job seekers their sexual orientation or to use such information in any way to discriminate against a worker. But state officials say it appears BofA hasn’t crossed the line in asking current employees the question in its survey. Janie Siess, assistant deputy director of program and policy development at the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said it seems that BofA has skirted California’s strict privacy laws by permitting workers not to answer the question.

“The issue here is what Bank of America will use this information for,” she said.

Yes, my question is, what do they need this information for, considering gay people are not protected in many states from discrimination in credit, housing and all kinds of legal situations? The misuse or theft of this information could actually place BoA in a whole sh*tload of trouble in terms of liability. Has anyone in corporate legal gotten a memo on this?

“We never advise that clients ask,” said Larry Comp, a principal at Humanomics, a Southern California management consulting firm. “It’s personal, very personal, and it makes employees uncomfortable.”

Ethan Winning, a Walnut Creek management consultant, said it’s very strange that BofA would couple a routine employee satisfaction survey with sensitive personal information.

Along with sexual orientation, the survey asks respondents to specify their gender, race and whether they have a disability.

What’s the correlation between sexual orientation and whether or not your supervisor fosters a team atmosphere?” Winning asked. “What the hell does a bank care what your sexual orientation is?”

BofA employees, who asked that their names be withheld for fear of reprisal, said their chief concern is that the company will use the data for profiling purposes based on race or sexual orientation. “What are you going to do, group African Americans together in terms of their opinions?” one manager asked. “Or group gay people together?”

Another BofA employee cited an internal memo issued earlier this week in which workers were advised to respond to the online survey “during business hours.” This person said many colleagues were nervous that the bank would be able to trace individual responses back to specific computers.

A lot of people are putting down ‘heterosexual’ because they think that the bank is able to track it back to them,” the employee said.

Want to ask BoA’s spokesperson Tara Burke about the bank’s survey? Her email is: tara.a.burke@bankofamerica.com.

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