Advancing Equity and Inclusivity At Work Requires Eradicating Inequity and Harassment

The federal government, the nation’s largest employer, continues to take steps to shape its organizational culture in a way that promotes equity, diversity, and inclusivity while preventing unlawful harassment.

On June 25, 2021, the White House released an executive order, which includes a strategic plan to address employment discrimination and workplace harassment,

including sexual harassment, which clearly defines the term ‘harassment’; outlines policies and practices to prevent, report, respond to, and investigate harassment; promotes mechanisms for employees to report misconduct; encourages bystander intervention; and addresses training, education, and monitoring to create a culture that does not tolerate harassment or other forms of discrimination or retaliation.

The order and fact sheet focuses on inequalities and barriers faced by people of color, women, immigrants, workers with disabilities, seniors, LGBTQ+, and those residing in rural areas, among others.

As a person with disabilities, I cheered to read this: “The federal government is stronger and more successful when individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities to lead at every level,” the fact sheet said. “In spite of decades of progress in removing barriers to employment for employees with disabilities, people with disabilities remain under-represented throughout the federal government, and particularly in positions of leadership.”

As an employment lawyer, I was similarly cheered to note a focus on bystander intervention, calling out unacceptable and inappropriate comments, the act of which tends to diffuse tolerance for inappropriate and potentially unlawful behavior. I’ve been focusing on that in this blog and anti-harassment trainings I’ve given for years!

How Does This EO Affect Workplace Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Workers?

In this recent survey, the Center for American Progress tallied that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination, including more than 3 in 5 transgender workers. To combat widespread discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ+ individuals, the June 25 EO directs agencies to ensure that the usage of pronouns in the federal employment process respects the gender spectrum and includes access to gender-neutral facilities.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This seems like a natural extension of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance issued on June 15, 2021, which included a landing page, technical assistance document, FAQs on sex discrimination, and a handy fact sheet about sexual orientation and gender identity workplace rights.

The EEOC guidance clearly explains the prohibition against workplace harassment that creates a hostile work environment based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity and, critically, details examples of harassment, including, “offensive or derogatory remarks about sexual orientation,” as well as, “offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s transgender status or gender transition.”

The fact sheet alone asks and answers a total of thirteen questions related to the Bostock v. Clayton County, the June 15, 2020 SCOTUS decision determining that an employer who fires or takes an adverse action against an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Helpful for employers!

Now, the LGBTQ+ provisions of the EO seem to amplify the EEOC’s guidance and Bostock decision, marrying the Administration’s strategic plan with the EEOC’s, the federal agency that enforces that anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, stated mission.

What About Inequality for Women and POC? And Equal Pay?

Yep, the EO’s got this covered too. It notes what we’ve seen all along—many workers face racial and gender pay gaps, and pay inequity disproportionately affects women of color. The Order directs the Office of Personnel Management to review Government-wide regulations and guidance that set pay and wage standards for public servants. 

What Does This Have To Do With Culture? Employers Take Note.

Remember, we’ve noted in so many different areas, but especially regarding sexual harassment, buy-in from senior leadership is critical and far more likely to maintain a “top-down” culture not only of prohibiting unlawful harassment but of equity.

When anti-discrimination and a refusal to tolerate unlawful harassment comes from the very top of an organization, it demonstrates commitment to employees from the C-Suite to the mailroom to maintain a culture of respect for all. It says, “we’re serious here.”

The Federal Government’s outline of policies and practices to prevent, report, respond to, and investigate harassment, and address training, education, and monitoring to create a culture that does not tolerate harassment or other forms of discrimination.

Ok then, sounds like a plan.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.