New policy implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development “strongly encourages” businesses contracting with the organization to have non-discrimination policies in place for their LGBT workers.
The new policy, spelled out in an executive message dated Oct. 11, encourages companies contracting with USAID to go beyond mandatory non-discrimination protections — including protections based on race, religion and gender — and put in place additional policies to prohibit job bias against LGBT employees and other workers.
According to the memo, the agency is making the change to “encourage all USAID contractors and recipients, including those performing solely overseas, to apply comprehensive nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, marital status, parental status, political affiliation, and any other conduct that does not affect performance.”
The memo notes that the change isn’t mandatory, so contractors aren’t bound to have the policies to continue working with USAID. Still, the policy is likely the first from any U.S. agency encouraging federal contractors to have non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers.
LGBT advocates said the memo is an important step in addressing workplace discrimination, but noted the change doesn’t have a lot of teeth.
Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University who first posted the new policy on her blog, called the change a “breakthrough,” but noted it can’t be enforced.
“Technically it isn’t enforceable in the sense that a contractor who fails to adopt these policies could be cited as out of compliance,” Hunter said. “However, it sends a strong signal that such policies are favored, and creates an incentive for any private company that contracts with USAID to conform its policies to this guidance.”
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said USAID “deserves credit” for observing that taxpayers “should not have to subsidize anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment,” but also noted the change isn’t binding.
“If a USAID contractor fires a qualified employee just because she is lesbian or because he is transgender, those employees will still not be allowed to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor seeking enforcement of the workplace protections encouraged under this new symbolic policy,” Almeida said.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the new policy is a step in the right direction and could encourage other agencies to follow USAID’s lead.
“I’ve heard that new language in USAID contracts and grants will encourage the agency’s program implementers to follow USAID’s existing policies by extending nondiscrimination provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” Bromley said. “I think USAID deserves a lot of credit for their leadership and hope others will follow.”
Asked to comment on the USAID policy, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said, “We welcome it.”
LGBT advocates have been pushing President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting all federal contractors — not just those doing business with USAID — to have non-discrimination policies in place based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Such a policy change would be binding and enforced by the Department of Labor. The Obama administration hasn’t said one way or the other if it will issue the order.
Almeida said the executive order is the best way for the Obama administration to ensure federal contractors have non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers in place and called on the president to issue the order before 2013.
“In order for LGBT workers to have the same workplace protections as all other Americans, President Obama needs to sign an ENDA executive order covering government contractors for all federal agencies,” Almeida said. “Freedom to Work respectfully urges the President to do so during his first term.”