Making good on his pledge to govern by executive order, rather than awaiting congressional legislation, President Obama has announced that he will soon sign an order barring federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") employees and job applicants. LGBT status currently is not expressly protected under federal discrimination law.
According to deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest, “The President, following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, has directed his staff to prepare for his signature, an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Specific details of the coming order are not yet known.
Although the order will apply only to federal government contractors, employers who are not contractors should pay close attention to it. We’ve written several times here at Workplace Update about recurring efforts to enact the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act. An executive order protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination could once again revive interest in passing ENDA, which would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT applicants and employees and apply to all employers with fifteen (15) or more employees, not just federal contractors.
Against this backdrop of expanded legal protections for various groups, employers should waste no time in reviewing and updating their employee handbooks and workplace policies. Although this particular executive order will apply only to government contractors, it sends yet another clear message to all employers that more changes are on the way.