The Senate recently passed a bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that prohibits employer discrimination against LGBT workers, with exceptions for religious institutions. Despite accusations that this law will be bad for business, it will actually create a better business environment for employers and workers.
The United States is one of the few countries with a population representing ethnicities, races, religions, and individuals from literally all over the planet. Our free-market system only works if everyone has the opportunity to participate equally, especially in the labor market. We recognize that this opportunity is good for everyone and leads to a more prosperous country. Furthermore, there is an implicit agreement that when one opens for business in America, that business is either open to all or to none.
Historically, certain groups have been excluded from the labor market for reasons not related to their qualifications to work, something that has contributed to poverty and social instability. While most of us recognize the importance of democratic selection and individual rights, we also recognize the necessity to protect individuals from discrimination based on their race, sex, religion, age, family status, nationality, disability, or veteran status. And of course, most of us hold a special dislike for people who discriminate against individuals or entire groups for these characteristics. The LGBT community is no exception to this rule, and there are many instances of individuals either being barred from employment or fired for their orientation. Because of this, it is important to add sexual orientation as a protected class.
Despite rhetoric from some conservative voices, much like race and gender, sexual orientation has a strong genetic component as a determiner. LGBT individuals continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. Anti-discrimination laws that exclude sexual orientation and gender identity suggest that this discrimination is permissible, and tells employers who don't already have anti-discrimination policies in place that there will be no consequences if they discriminate against LGBT workers. For those who already have anti-discrimination policies in place, nothing will change.
Enacting ENDA will not add any significant burden or expense to businesses. Compliance costs aren’t going to dramatically increase. Businesses in the U.S. are well-aware of the regulations around hiring and employing as it relates to protected classes. Adding an additional group (and one that is quite a small percentage of the population) won’t have much effect on day-to-day HR or legal operations of businesses unless the business owner or management is especially homophobic. While the potential for abuse of a protected class status with ENDA passing is possible, it is highly unlikely.
The idea that enacting ENDA will push small companies into bankruptcy or failure is ridiculous, as is the idea that large companies support this legislation because it will affect small businesses. Large companies support ENDA because they realize that the U.S. and global marketplace is diverse and that having diversity on their staff contributes to higher productivity, revenues, and ability to interact effectively with customers. Having those employees protected legally contributes to peace of mind for both employer and employee so they can focus on business-related issues rather than personal characteristics.
ENDA won’t prevent employees from being mistreated by poor employers, but it will offer protections for those who are discriminated against purely for their sexual orientation. These protections create a fairer marketplace — and that's something that helps everybody.