Florida advocates and lawmakers are pushing for new protections for the LGBTQ community. The proposed Florida Competitive Workplace Act, which is supported by both Democratic representative Ben Diamond and Republican representative Rene Plascencia, aims at preventing employers in the restaurant and lodging industries or other public accommodations from discriminating against workers based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
This proposed new law would modify the state's current civil rights laws, which prohibit employment and housing discrimination based on a variety of factors but do not offer protection based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Support for the New Law
The House bill and a similar one in the Senate have received widespread support from both liberal Democrats and the most conservative of Republicans. It's also strongly supported by the statewide business coalition Florida Competes.
Proponents of the measure believe it will strengthen the economy, build a stronger sense of community, and most importantly, reaffirm the basic human rights of the members of the LGBTQ community. It's believed that passing the bill is a step in the right direction for creating a healthy, vibrant state where families of all types are happy to live and work.
Request for Executive Order
Activists have been asking Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign an anti-discrimination executive order protecting workplace rights for the LGBTQ community for nearly two years, without success. Following the 2016 shooting massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Governor Scott's staff promised he would sign the order, but it has yet to happen.
While supporters accuse Scott of backing out of his promise, his stance remains that the state of Florida follows Federal guidelines which are sufficient for protecting the interests of the LGBTQ community. Orlando's Democratic representative Carlos Guillermo Smith has been outspoken about his strong disagreement with this stance, arguing that recent activities within the Federal government make state-specific protections even more critical.
Concern Over Federal Protections
Last year, under the Trump administration, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice argued in court that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect gay workers from being fired due to their sexual orientation. This comes after a 2017 memo released by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the department's previous stance on workplace protection for transgender employees.
These moves seem to indicate that support from the Federal government is not a given, and more action is needed on the state and local front. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the rights of the LGBTQ community, it's no wonder activists and supporters are working so hard to push further protections into law. With over 75 percent of Florida's public in favor of anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ workers, it's likely just a matter of time before it's passed into law.
A Note for Florida Employers
While there are currently no state-level laws prohibiting discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation, Florida employers should be aware that such laws do exist in certain cities and counties.
If you're not sure about the laws in the area where you conduct business, you'll want to do your homework. Better yet, avoid taking any action that could be interpreted as discriminatory in nature so you don't have to worry about it in the first place. Not only is it the right thing to do, it can help you avoid unnecessary headaches and possible legal troubles.
If you need to take disciplinary action against a current employee or have decided not to hire a potential candidate, always document the reasoning behind your decision. This will help you defend yourself if a problem arises. You can also give yourself additional peace of mind by consulting with a qualified employment attorney before moving forward with any potentially problematic action.