The president plans to sign an executive order banning companies that do business with the federal government from discriminating against gay and transgender employees. This could make life easier on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers currently employed for such companies, according to Sarah Ovink, sociology professor at Virginia Tech.
“The most benefit will be for LGBT workers who are already employed in these types of jobs, who will no longer feel unfair retaliation,” she said.
“The order may also provide greater confidence for LGBT workers who have feared being ‘out’ in the workplace, thereby enhancing the working environment. This may also benefit employers, given the evidence we have that workers who feel more secure and accepted in the workplace tend to be more productive.”
While the order is limited in scope, it does set an important precedent, according to Joanna Hunter, sociology professor at Radford University.
“While this order only applies to those companies and organizations that work directly with the federal government through contracts, it will probably have a ripple effect with other types of companies,” she said.
If companies begin to voluntarily enact such non-discrimination policies, it could serve as a recruiting tool for certain employees.
“If I’m a prospective employee and I have two equal job offers, one from a company that has such a non-discrimination policy and one that doesn’t, I might choose to go with the company that has the policy if it is important to me,” Hunter explained.The order may provide greater confidence for LGBT workers who have feared being 'out' in the workplace.
The difficulty with the president’s move is that anti-discrimination policies can be tricky to enforce.
“Most employment is ‘at will,'” Ovink pointed out, meaning that an employer can fire an employee at any time without having to give warning or reason.
“Unless evidence of blatant, documented discrimination or harassment can be furnished, many cases that are alleged as wrongful termination are difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” she added.
That doesn’t mean the government is without resources, however.
“The most important tools they have are lucrative government contracts,” Hunter said. “Don’t have a policy or don’t fairly enforce it? No contract for you.”
It should also be noted that the order is still in the planning stage — the president is not expected to sign it for another few weeks — and White House spokesman Josh Earnest has said that such an order would not be a substitute for Congress addressing the issue.
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