OFCCP Releases Final Rule on LGBT Non-Discrimination


Originally posted December 4, 2014 by Cara Crotty on ThinkHR.com

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs announced yesterday that it is issuing a Final Rule implementing President Obama’s Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This Final Rule will be effective 120 days after publication in the Federal Register (which has not yet occurred) and will apply to federal contracts entered into or modified on or after that date.

What does the Final Rule change?

The EO Clause has been changed to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” However, those contractors that incorporate the EO clause by reference will not need to physically alter their subcontracts or purchase orders.

Contractors must notify applicants and employees of their non-discrimination policy by posting the “EEO is the Law” poster. Presumably, the government will be updating this poster to include these two new categories.

Contractors are also obligated to expressly state in job advertisements that all qualified candidates will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. The Final Rule provides that employers can satisfy this requirement by including that verbiage or simply indicating that the company is an “equal opportunity employer.”

Although employees hired outside of the United States are not covered by the regulations, if a contractor is not able to obtain a visa of entry for an employee or potential employee to a country in which it is doing business, the regulations require the contractor to notify both the OFCCP and the U.S. Department of State if the contractor believes that the refusal of the visa is because of the individual’s protected characteristic. This requirement now applies to sexual orientation and gender identity status.

The section of the regulations regarding Placement Goals in AAPs has also been updated. Contractors are prohibited from extending preferences on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin due to specific placement goals.

What is not affected by the Final Rule?

The Final Rule does not change contractors’ reporting and information collection requirements, so contractors are not required to survey or report on the number of LGBT applicants or employees. The required components of Affirmative Action Plans are also not affected.

What should contractors do to comply?

The Final Rule simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the sections of the regulation where the other protected categories are listed, so the impact on federal contractors is limited. However, contractors should begin the process of determining whether and when they need to do the following:

  • Update the EO Clause in subcontracts and purchase orders;
  • Amend the EEO and AA policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Obtain new “EEO is the Law” posters;
  • Modify their EEO tagline on job solicitations; and
  • Train appropriate personnel on the new protections.

In addition, the OFCCP has issued FAQs regarding its interpretation of the Final Rule. These will probably be updated periodically as contractors pose questions to the OFCCP.

Why no proposed rule?

You may be wondering whether you missed the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this issue. Actually, the OFCCP bypassed the notice and comment period, stating that the “Executive Order was very clear about the steps the Department of Labor was required to take, and left no discretion regarding how to proceed. In such cases, principles of administrative law allow an agency to publish final rules without prior notice and comment when the agency only makes a required change to conform a regulation to the enabling authority, and does not have any discretion in doing so.” (The OFCCP must not have seen all the questions I had after reading the Executive Order.)


Why the Hobby Lobby Case Puts Employees (And Your Happy Workplace) at Risk

Originally posted July 3, 2014 by Jeremy Quittner on www.inc.com.

The Supreme Court's ruling in support of Hobby Lobby on Monday may be a win for anti-abortion advocates, but it could also spell the end to long-sought anti-discrimination laws for other groups.

A case in point: the Employee Non-discrimination Act(ENDA), which would add LGBT workers to the roster of groups including racial minorities, women, and the disabled currently protected by federal non-discrimination statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The bill is aimed at granting these traditionally vulnerable groups protections against discrimination in hiring practices and in the workplace, among other things. And though ENDA has floated around in Congress without ever passing for close to two decades, it did enjoy some recent time in the sun, as recently as last year, when it passed in the Senate. Its proponents are hoping for another try this year. Yet after recent events, that optimism may now seem quaint.

Legal observers now say Monday's Supreme Court ruling in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores v. Burwell, basically renders that once-promising bill moot. Since the Court's decision effectively lets businesses object--on religious grounds--to most any federal mandate, not just the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to causing confusion and unease among business owners in general, this latest implication of the Hobby Lobby ruling indicates that owners might also expect significant problems in their own ranks. From discrimination against women and LGBT people to sexual harassment incidents, the ruling's repercussions could extend far and wide.

"The majority [opinion] said that you can't discriminate based on race. It did not mention same-sex marriage" or sexual identity, says Kevin Martin, a partner at Goodwin Procter in Boston, and a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia.

Speaking for the majority in Monday's 5 to 4 decision, Justice Samuel Alito suggests the Hobby Lobby ruling should not be construed to support racial discrimination:

The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked in religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

Nevertheless, Alito leaves open to question discrimination based on gender, sexual identity, and sexual expression. There's probably a good reason for that, notes Daniel O. Conkle, an expert on constitutional law, the First Amendment, and religion at Indiana University.

Extensive case law has already provided a precedent that forbids religious groups claiming an exemption from race-based discrimination, as Bob Jones University had decades ago. The university had sued the IRS, which revoked its tax-exempt status as a religious organization, based on its discriminatory admissions policies at the time.

Despite getting a recent boost, ENDA had been languishing for some time. Last year, the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, reportedly helped place a religious exemption in the legislation, to make the bill more palatable to conservative lawmakers. The added measure included broad exceptions for any religious organization that opposed hiring LGBT people, as well as broad exemptions for small business owners with fewer than 15 employees. While that strategy worked in the Senate this winter-- ENDA passed 64 to 32--the bill stalled in the House.

Although President Obama signed an executive order in June, forbidding discrimination against LGBT federal contractor workers, currently, there is no federal law protecting people in the workplace on the basis of sexual identity or gender expression. Twenty-one states have added their own protections, and about 175 municipalities have as well. But in 29 states, it's still perfectly legal to fire LGBT employees based on their sexuality or gender expression.

About 75 percent of LGBT people say they have experienced discrimination at work, with an equivalent percentage saying they have been harassed at work, according to the Williams Institute, a gender identity law and public policy institute. Sixteen percent say they have lost a job due to their sexual orientation. Williams estimates there are about 8.2 million lesbian and gay workers in the U.S.

And after 20 years, particularly after the Hobby Lobby ruling, it now seems like ENDA's time has come and gone. LGBT people must try a new approach for workplace equality.