President may issue executive order on workplace harassment

As many New Yorkers can attest, harassment and discrimination in the workplace are serious issues. In fact, President Barack Obama has asked his staff to compile an executive order regarding discrimination in the workplace against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors, which could affect as many as 16 million employees.

According to some, this executive order is a reaction to Congress’s failure to create legislation regarding the same topic. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if passed, would have made firings or harassment against someone in the workplace based on their gender identity or sexual orientation illegal. The U.S. Senate passed the measure, but has not passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

While it remains to be seen what action will be taken next by either the President or Congress, what remains to be true is that in many states, a hard-working employee could lose their job based totally on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Although federal law prevents certain types of discrimination against people based on race, national origin and religion there is no federal law preventing firings and harassment against someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

When workplace discrimination does occur, employees do have rights. One step to take is to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC administers federal discrimination complaints. The EEOC will investigate the circumstances surrounding the complaint, which could take several months to complete. When an employer has been determined to have illegally discriminated against an employee, the EEOC will pursue a settlement or sue. Should the EEOC choose not to sue, the right to sue will then be passed on the employee.

As this shows, the world of employment law can be complex. It is important for every employee to understand their rights, and their legal options should those rights be violated.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Obama Drafting Executive Order On LGBT Job Discrimination,” Jennifer Bendery and Sam Stein, June 16, 2014

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