In workplaces across the country, federal law protects employees against discrimination based on a whole host of things—race, religion, sex, age, nationality and more. The list is pretty long, actually. But in 33 states that don’t explicitly have such a ban, people can be legally fired or harassed just for being gay or transgender.
In a step forward to ensure equal protection for all employees, the Senate recently passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill would have a positive impact not just on gay and transgender workers, but also on small business owners across the country.
One such entrepreneur who believes this law would benefit his business is Jarek Steele. Steele has co-owned Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., with his partner, Kris Kleindienst, for 11 years. Founded in 1969, Left Bank Books is an independently-owned bookstore with two locations in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. As a small employer, Steele thinks it’s vital to have a federal non-discrimination policy in place because in Missouri, it’s still legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I support policies that level the playing field,“ Steele said. “When employees know they’re being treated fairly, it increases productivity, encourages a better work environment and therefore improves our bottom line.”
A federal non-discrimination law would simplify protections and make it easier for owners to run their businesses. As Steele says, “Employment non-discrimination policies guarantee that the same rules of fair play apply to all employers and free business owners like me from having to put such policies in place ourselves. A uniform, federal policy just makes business sense.”
The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but it now faces an uncertain future in the House. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, recently said he believes ENDA will “increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”
But the majority of small business owners disagree.
Small Business Majority’s polling found that the majority of small employers believe we’re long overdue for federal policies that protect all workers from discrimination. They believe it’s good for business, it helps companies attract the best and brightest employees and it’s the right thing to do.
In fact, the vast majority of small business owners already thought it was illegal to fire someone for being gay or transgender. A striking 81 percent didn’t realize it’s currently legal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay, lesbian or transgender, and two-thirds believe federal law should prohibit this type of discrimination. What’s more, 60 percent believe laws that protect against discrimination can help improve their bottom line.
And it’s important point to note, especially given the highly charged partisan environment our country finds itself in, that the political identification of poll respondents ran the gamut. In fact, it was plurality Republican, with 41 percent identifying as Republican, 36 percent as Democrat and 16 percent identifying as independent or other.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.