This article was originally published in The Hill.
Gay and transgender employees sorely need legal protections to combat the high rates of employment discrimination they experience in the workplace. Such discrimination leads to greater unemployment insecurity 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. If passed, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would ensure nobody is forced out of job simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
But opponents of workplace fairness continue to trumpet misleading claims in their efforts to stop ENDA. A favorite misleading line of attack is that small-business owners oppose legislation like ENDA, including the erroneous claim that it imposes burdensome costs on our nation’s small businesses—it seems more widely known that many large companies, including most of the Fortune 100, are supportive of these policies and have already implemented them.
Case in point: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told a constituent in August 2010 that ENDA “would impose significant regulatory burdens and costs on small businesses.” Similarly, Focus on the Family sent a letter to members of the House in 2009 claiming that “ENDA will … increase compliance costs for businesses—costs that small businesses can ill-afford, particularly during this economic downturn.”
It is unknown where these ENDA opponents are finding the facts to back up these claims. But they are certainly not asking small-businesses owners themselves.
First, a Center for American Progress poll shows a majority of small businesses already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Seven out of 10 small businesses already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 6 out of 10 on gender identity. If small businesses are so opposed to workplace fairness, then why do most of them already have internal policies to ensure equal treatment of their gay and transgender employees?
Second, small businesses voice strong support for ENDA itself. Sixty-three percent of small businesses support ENDA, with only 15 percent opposed. This support among small businesses mirrors the public’s support for ENDA. A CAP poll from June shows that 73 percent of likely 2012 voters also support legislation to combat discrimination against the gay and transgender workforce, including clear majorities of self-identified Republicans.
Despite their support for workplace fairness, 89 percent of likely voters and 89 percent of small businesses erroneously believe that gay and transgender Americans already have federal employment protections. Until Congress passes ENDA, however, it remains perfectly legal to fire gay and transgender individuals in a majority of states.
Third, the results of CAP’s poll demonstrate that costs are a virtually non-existent factor when it comes to ensuring fairness in the workplace. Of the majority of businesses that already have inclusive nondiscrimination policies, a majority say there were zero costs associated with both implementing and maintaining their sexual orientation and gender-identity-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. Of the minority citing costs associated with inclusive nondiscrimination policies, most said those costs represented less than 1 percent of total annual operating costs.
But what about those small businesses that do not have these policies on their books? Do they cite costs as a reason for not having inclusive nondiscrimination policies? Of those small businesses that do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, only 2 percent say costs deterred them from offering protections to gay employees. Only 4 percent cite costs as a deterrent to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Most simply say that adopting these policies never occurred to them.
Beyond ENDA and nondiscrimination policies, CAP’s poll also asked about equal healthcare benefits for gay employees and their families, including same-sex domestic partners, spouses and legally adopted children. The results were similarly clear.
Of small businesses that offer healthcare benefits to straight employees and their dependents, 51 percent also offer equivalent benefits to their gay employees and their family members. Of the remaining businesses that offer these benefits to straight employees but do not currently offer parity in benefits to gay employees and their families, 51 percent say that they would extend those benefits if they had an employee with a same-sex partner. This means that 76 percent of these small businesses either currently offer or are willing to offer equal benefits to gay employees and their families.
The results also demonstrate that costs associated with equal healthcare benefits are insignificant for most small businesses. For example, of those businesses that offer healthcare benefits to straight employees and their families but not to their gay employees and their families, only 4 percent cite costs as a deterrent to offering parity in benefits. Instead, most of these small-business owners said they simply do not have employees in a same-sex partnership.
The results of CAP’s poll are clear. Small-business owners favor workplace fairness, both with respect to their internal nondiscrimination and benefits policies, and with respect to legislation such as ENDA. They favor treating all employees equally—gay or straight, transgender or not transgender—and doing so is not a costly endeavor.
Small businesses have spoken, and they have spoken in favor of fairness.
Burns is special assistant to the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. Krehely is the project’s director.