CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order, which as of press time hadn’t yet been signed and its details not released, could have a significant effect on workers in North Carolina, home to large industry of federal contractors tied to the state’s strong military presence.
Scott Dorney, executive director of the North Carolina Military Business Center, said his group will be paying close attention to any news on the executive order.
“We will pay attention, because we are in the business of helping companies compete, win and successfully executive contracts,” he said.
If a new anti-discrimination order is put in place, it will have an effect on companies currently doing business with the federal government and those who wish to do so in the future. Many large companies might already have human resources policies complying with any new potential executive order. Many others, though, might not.
Beverly Freeman is president of AAP Consultants. Her firm assists companies in crafting human resources policies, including affirmative action plans. Getting companies to adopt new non-discrimination measures would take education and strategy, she said.
“There might be additional processes they might have to put into place that might not currently exist,” she explained.
And, some companies might not appreciate the new changes.
“A lot of the very, very large federal contractors have these practices in place and are companies that are creating cultures that are all-inclusive,” Freeman said. There are many others who do not embrace it. I don’t personally know if they are discriminating in those areas, and I kind of like to believe that nobody does.”
For some companies, implementing LGBT-inclusive policies will “be an effort for a company to make a cultural decision” on how they want their company to operate and how they want to promote themselves.
If the executive order is signed, the potential affect for workers themselves will be hard to track. The
A 2012 study from the Williams Institute showed that as many as 16.5 million people work for federal contractors. Of those, 400,000-600,000 might be LGBT. It’s unclear how many LGBT workers would be affected in North Carolina.
Dorney said the federal contractor or sub-contractor workforces in the state are large. In 2013, the Department of Defense had more than 21,000 individual contracts in North Carolina.
And, workers of all varieties would feel the influence. Many people assume federal contractors are large-scale companies producing heavy military machinery. But, contracts also include smaller companies offering a variety of services to military-related agencies or bases — including even janitorial services.
“People think planes, tanks, submarines,” Dorney said. “That’s not what we’re talking about in North Carolina. We’re talking about companies that make boots or uniforms or jeans or do information technology services for the military. There are also other commercial services like locksmithing and janitorial. Most of the federal contracts are in construction but a lot of them are state or local businesses as well.”
Obama’s expected executive order comes as movement on the long-debated Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to stall. Last fall, the U.S. Senate passed the bill, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination across most employment sectors nationally. The House of Representatives has yet to bring it to a vote and, under Republican leadership, isn’t likely to any time soon. Some advocates have pulled their support of the bill, citing its inclusion of exemptions allowing religious groups to continue discriminating against non-ministerial staff.
On Monday, Obama announced he would also extend protections to federal workers on the basis of gender identity. A previous executive order signed in 2009 had provided similar protections on the basis of sexual orientation and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had already interpreted sex-based discrimination to include transgender individuals.
At the state level, North Carolina government workers, as well as those in the private sector, remain without employment protections. An equal employment executive order signed on Monday by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory specifically excluded protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.