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Small Businesses Support Fairness

CAP Survey Finds Owners Back Employment Non-Discrimination Act

SOURCE: Flickr/House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) testifies at a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on June 16, 2009. Rep. Frank introduced ENDA in the House of Representatives earlier this year, where it has 153 co-sponsors. A recent CAP poll finds support for the legislation among small businesses.

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A new Center for American Progress poll shows that most small businesses in America support workplace discrimination protections for people who are gay or transgender.[1]

The poll shows that 63 percent of small businesses support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would provide American workers with federal protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[2] Only 15 percent of small-business owners expressed opposition to ENDA. Meanwhile, a CAP poll from earlier this year showed that 73 percent of likely voters in 2012 support legislation to combat gay and transgender discrimination in the workplace, including a majority of self-identified independent and Republican voters.

CAP previously documented that people who are gay or transgender face high rates of discrimination in the workplace. Such discrimination leads to higher unemployment rates for gay and transgender people, and it heaps unnecessary costs on business by pushing away otherwise qualified employees from employment simply because they are gay or transgender. ENDA would help combat employment discrimination against the gay and transgender workforce, which would also lead to greater employment stability for this population and reduce inefficient discriminatory hiring practices among employers.

Members in both chambers of Congress introduced ENDA legislation earlier this year. Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-OR) introduced ENDA in the Senate, where it has 41 co-sponsors. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced ENDA in the House of Representatives, where it has 153 co-sponsors. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit public and private employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Further, 87 percent of Fortune 500 businesses prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and about half prohibit gender identity discrimination.

But no federal law—such as ENDA—currently provides gay and transgender workers the same workplace protections currently afforded to women, veterans, and people of color. Until Congress passes ENDA, it will remain legal in a majority of states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And despite the pressing need to pass this important legislation, a robust lobby of extreme right-wing organizations continues to oppose ENDA. Based simply on their dislike and fear of gay and transgender people, these groups work to spread a wide range of lies about gay and transgender people, the discrimination they face, and the impact ENDA would purportedly have on the business community.

A frequently used myth trumpeted by these groups is that ENDA would be a burden on small businesses. Ahead of the September 2009 House hearing on ENDA, Focus on the Family sent a letter to all House members denouncing the proposed legislation partly based on the untrue claim that “ENDA will … increase compliance costs for businesses—costs that small business can ill-afford, particularly during this economic downturn.”

Results from the CAP poll, however, reveal three crucial facts that dispel this myth.

First, a clear majority of small businesses already have sexual orientation and gender-identity-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Seven out of 10 small businesses prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 6 out of 10 small businesses already prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. If these policies were costly, why would clear majorities of small businesses already have them on their books?

Second, ENDA only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, which are significantly more likely to already have gay-and-transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policies compared to businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Whereas 64 percent of small businesses with 3 to 14 employees prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, 77 percent of small businesses with 15 or more employees do so. ENDA would not impact the smallest of small businesses, and of those it would apply to, only a small minority fails to prohibit discrimination against gay and transgender workers.

Lastly, only a handful of small businesses cite costs as a reason for not prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender employees. Of the few small businesses that do not have gender-identity-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, only 4 percent cited costs as a reason they did not prohibit discrimination against transgender employees. Further, of the few small businesses that do not have sexual-orientation-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, a mere 2 percent cited costs as a reason they did not prohibit discrimination against gay employees.

Costs were clearly not a factor for these businesses when deciding whether or not to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity into existing nondiscrimination policies. Nor for that matter were moral or religious beliefs. Of the few small businesses that do not have inclusive nondiscrimination policies, only 7 percent cited moral or religious beliefs as a reason for not prohibiting discrimination against transgender employees. Instead, these businesses said that they never thought to adopt these policies or that they did not have gay or transgender employees currently in their workplace.

As the debate over ENDA continues, some right-wing conservatives are likely to continue to assert ENDA’s alleged burden on small businesses. But small businesses largely support fairness in the workplace for gay and transgender employees, and they report virtually no cost issues with incorporating sexual orientation and gender identity into their nondiscrimination policies. Claims such as “ENDA will impose costs on small businesses” are patently false.

ENDA’s premise is simple. It ensures nobody is forced out of a job because they are gay or transgender. It also makes our businesses more competitive by ensuring companies are hiring the best and the brightest rather than pushing away employees based on personal characteristics irrelevant to job performance such as sexual orientation and gender identity. What ENDA does not do, however, is place a financial burden on businesses, small or large.

Small-business owners support workplace fairness. Likely 2012 voters support workplace fairness. It is time for our policymakers to follow suit.

Crosby Burns is Special Assistant for LGBT Progress and Jeff Krehely is Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project.

Notes

[1]. In this column, the term “gay” is used as an umbrella term for people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

[2]. Small businesses were defined as businesses that employ 3 to 100 employees.

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