Presidential Order Protects LGBT Workers at Federal Contractors

New SHRM policy statement supports order, with cautions

Jul 21, 2014
Federal contractors are now prohibited from discriminating against workers and job applicants based on sexual orientation and gender identity, under an executive order that President Barack Obama signed July 21, 2014. The order will bring new requirements for federal contractor employers to follow.

“In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense,” Obama said during a brief signing ceremony on July 21. “So I firmly believe that it's time to address this injustice for every American.”

The order protects all employees of federal contractors from sexual orientation and/or gender identification discrimination. According to statistics from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), private businesses holding contracts with the federal government employ about 28 million workers—or nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers were quick to praise the president for signing the order.

“With this action, President Obama has cemented his legacy as a transformative leader. Consistently, this administration has taken unprecedented and historic executive actions to advance LGBT equality in this country and around the world,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based group Human Rights Campaign, in a written statement.

Business groups, including the Society for Human Resource Management and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have expressed concerns about the impact the new regulations may have for federal contractors.

The SHRM Board of Directors has adopted a public policy statement supporting efforts to prevent workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but cautions that the effort should be narrowly drafted to avoid unintended consequences for employers and employees. According to SHRM Government Affairs staffers, SHRM will be reviewing the executive order to determine how it will affect SHRM members and will comment on the proposed regulations, which will be issued within 90 days.

Many religious leaders had called on Obama to include religious-based exemptions to the order, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case June 30. The court ruled in that case that closely held companies with religious objections cannot be forced to provide coverage for certain contraceptive or abortion-inducing drugs.

Republican leaders in Congress had urged the president to offer exemptions based on religious beliefs, similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which the Senate passed in 2013.

“I believe an executive order must include the same religious protections that are included in the bipartisan ENDA,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters when a White House official announced in June the president’s intention to sign the order. “ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation's fundamental freedoms—religious freedom—is still upheld. The same must be said for any Obama administration initiative on this issue.”

Related Article:
President Calls for ENDA Order, SHRM Legal Issues

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