Many people across the nation may have more to be thankful for at Thanksgiving this year because these individuals may be one step closer to employment equality. Currently gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual individuals can be fired in 29 states based solely on their sexual orientation. Furthermore, there are 33 states where an employee can be fired for his or her gender identity. In those states there are no laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, unlike Washington. Unfortunately for those individuals, there is no federal law providing protection. But, the United States’ Senate is planning on voting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by Thanksgiving. Even if the bill is approved in the Senate, it would still have to pass through the House of Representatives before reaching the President’s desk. But this is the first time since 1996 that Senate leaders believe that the bill may actually pass one or both Congressional houses, which can be seen as progress for those who are waiting.
What is ENDA?
ENDA is a bill that has been floating around the United States’ Congress since 1994. It has not been voted on since 1996 when it was one vote short of passing in the Senate. If passed into law, it will provide federal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual individuals from employment discrimination. In its current form it offers protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
The law would only apply in the employment context. However, just like all other federal non-discrimination laws employers, with at least 15 employees, could not fire, fail to hire, discriminate in pay and advancement opportunities, or retaliate against a qualified person who happens to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It also allows religious organizations and the armed forces to be exempt, if they choose. One notable inclusion in the current version of the bill is that it addresses “Dress and Grooming Standards.” While employers may set their own standards for employee dress and grooming, an employer must allow an individual who is transitioning, or has transitioned, from male to female or vise-a-versa to adhere to the standards of the gender with which he or she identifies.
What ENDA means for Washington employers and employees
Washington State already has its own version of ENDA in its Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). WLAD protects individuals from unfair and discriminatory actions based on race, religion, gender, pregnancy, disability, national origin, veteran status, and sexual orientation. It applies to employers with at least 8 employees, but also applies beyond the employment setting to include public accommodations, real estate and health care among other things. So GLBT employees in Washington already have legal protections against employment discrimination. But it never hurts to have a second level of protection and recourse when it comes to employment discrimination concerns.
While the nation waits to see the fate of ENDA, Washington State LGBT employees have legal protections against employment discrimination. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact an experienced Washington employment attorney.