Lightspeed revamps relocation policy to help LGBTQ+ workers seeking safety

When a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws swept across the U.S. over the summer, Lightspeed Commerce Inc. employees wasted no time asking the company's executive ranks to help protect staff. The Lightspeed offices are seen in Montreal on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz. ryr

When a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws swept across the U.S. over the summer, Lightspeed Commerce Inc. employees wasted no time asking the company’s executive ranks to help protect staff.

President JD Saint-Martin recalls a June meeting held by the Montreal-based company’s pride group that inspired Lightspeed to consider whether its relocation policy should be amended.

By then, 18 U.S. states had passed laws that limit or ban gender-affirming medical care for minors and sexual orientation education in schools. Canada has seen rallies and counter-protests this fall over policy changes about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools as provincial politicians zeroed in on pronoun changes for students under 16.

“We’ve always had a relocation policy at Lightspeed, but our relocation policy was driven mostly for business reasons,” Saint-Martin said.

“In the context of what’s happening in the trans community and beyond really, we started to think, well, we should probably include all Lightspeed employees, including the LGBTQ+ employees who may need to relocate for personal health and safety reasons.”

Story continues below advertisement

By July, the e-commerce software company’s relocation policy was amended to add a human rights component that allows LGBTQ+ workers to move to regions they deem safer and supports them as they transition to a new location.

While this type of relocation policy has yet to become common throughout corporate Canada, at least one expert says many businesses have been thinking more closely about specific ways to support the community in recent years.

“Adopting gender-neutral washrooms, mandating the use of pronouns in email signatures and offering educational spaces for all staff to learn about terminology … these are things that we’re seeing a lot more of,” said Michael Robach, director of development at Qmunity, a social and support network for queer, trans, and two-spirit people in Vancouver.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“Even those small steps and small things, I think, really make a statement as an organization about who you are, and the fact that you do stand behind all your staff.”

Click to play video: 'Hundreds gather for Moncton Pride march'
Hundreds gather for Moncton Pride march

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned in May that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were becoming more frequent and intense.

Story continues below advertisement

Over the summer, in response to what was happening in the U.S., Canada updated its international travel advisories to warn those identifying as LGBTQ+ that they may face discrimination when travelling to certain states. The warning remains in place today.

But there are also concerns about the community’s safety at home.

New Brunswick changed its LGBTQ+ policy in June to require students under 16 to get parental consent before their teachers can use their preferred first names, creating dissent within the cabinet and almost triggering a snap election. Saskatchewan tabled a similar policy in October, invoking the notwithstanding clause in the process.

“Demand for our services and our programs and the calls that we’ve been getting asking for help have tripled since the beginning of summer,” said Robach.

“We’re very much feeling the change in the landscape of what’s happening, not just in the U.S., but that’s rubbing up here in Canada.”

For Lightspeed, amending its relocation policy to aid LGBTQ+ employees was a natural move.

Its latest count shows about 10 per cent of staff identified as LGBTQ2S+ and the company has had deep ties to the LGBTQ+ community since it was founded in 2005 by Dax Dasilva, one of the few openly gay CEOs at a major Canadian company.

Story continues below advertisement

Dasilva, who stepped down from the business last year, started the company in Montreal’s gay village and his original team members identified as LGBTQ+, so running a company friendly to the LGBTQ+ community has “always been part of our DNA,” said Saint-Martin.

“It’s always been part of what we stand for and it’s really an essential part of everything that we do.”

As part of the new relocation policy, Lightspeed moves quickly to help at-risk staff look for an ideal place to transfer and assist with administrative paperwork and visas.

Lightspeed keeps offices in Montreal and Toronto, along with two in the U.S. and five in Europe. Rounding out the company’s footprint are sites in Australia and New Zealand.

A few people have already taken the company up on its relocation offer, though the reasons staff want to move are kept private because the company knows it can be challenging for employees to come forward when they find themselves impacted by such policies.

“We treat them with respect and confidentiality,” Saint-Martin said, “so that they can continue to flourish and thrive … and not necessarily make that part of who they are per se, like the fact that they’ve had to relocate for these reasons.”

Sponsored content