Labor

Labor Department finalizes protections for gay employees

Federal contractors will be prohibited from discriminating against gay employees because of their sexual orientation, under new Obama administration regulations.

The Labor Department announced Wednesday it is finalizing new workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals employed by government contractors.

The workplace protections will prohibit federal contractors from firing, disciplining or not hiring an employee because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Though the rules do not apply to all private companies, government contractors that discriminate against gay employees risk losing billions of dollars in federal contracts under the new rules.

“Americans believe in fairness and opportunity. No one should live in fear of being fired or passed over or discriminated against at work simply because of who they are or who they love,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement. “Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity are long overdue, and we’re taking a big step forward today to fix that.”

The LGBT workplace protections spring directly from President Obama’s executive order from July, which called for the Labor Department to issue these rules.

These companies are already prohibited from discriminating against employees because of their sex, race, color, religion, or nationality.

LGBT workers are protected in 18 states and Washington, D.C., but previously there were no federal rules protecting gay employees across the country. 

But the LGBT protections only apply to the small percentage of private sector companies that do business with the federal government.

While the Obama administration can dictate the terms of their contracts with the government, Congress would have to act to protect all private sector employees, including those who do not work for government contractors.

Gay rights advocates praised the rules and said they will pave the way for the Obama administration to take action companies that treat LGBT employees unfairly.

Tico Almeida, president of the gay rights organization Freedom to Work, said the Labor Department should start by enforcing the rules at ExxonMobil, which he called “the most anti-gay corporation in America” because of certain workplace policies.

Gay rights advocates have long targeted ExxonMobile, but the company denies the claims.

“ExxonMobil has a zero-tolerance policy that prohibits all forms of discrimination in any company workplace, anywhere in the world, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” an ExxonMobil spokesman said in a statement.

The LGBT workplace protections will be published in Friday’s edition of the Federal Register. They go into effect in 120 days.

This story was updated at 5:16 p.m.

 

 

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