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US Labor Department strives to model GLBT employee relations

Last month, we reported that the GLBT Competitive Workforce Act is not likely to receive a hearing in the Florida House of Representatives. The bill seeks protections against discriminatory treatment in the workplace based on sexual orientation, age, disability and race.

While the GLBT community has made much progress socially, such laws are nonetheless vitally important. Florida workplaces have no state or federal protection based on sexual orientation. Until laws are passed, social progress alone cannot guarantee equal treatment for this disenfranchised group.

Still, we must celebrate every victory when it comes to equal rights for all citizens. Late last month, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a press release which announced its renewed commitment to equal opportunity and fair treatment of every employee and applicant.

Specifically, Secretary Hilda Solis signed statements which update the Labor Department's policies prohibiting discrimination based on sex, gender identity and pregnancy.

Solis said: "I am expressing my personal commitment to ensure that the U.S. Department of Labor is a model workplace, free from unlawful discrimination and harassment, which fosters a work environment that fully utilizes the capabilities of every employee."

Transgender individuals often face the more discrimination and prejudice than any other members of the GLBT community. Therefore, policies which specifically protect gender identity are an important step.

Pregnancy discrimination continues to be a problem for many women who attempt to balance family and career. Even if a pregnant woman does not get fired for being pregnant, her boss may pass her over for promotions or try to penalize her for taking maternity leave. Pregnancy discrimination can sometimes be subtle and difficult to prove, but there's no doubt that it happens.

While the Labor Department's announcement only applies to the department's own policies, it nonetheless sets an important standard. This commitment to equal rights for all employees will provide the example to be adopted by the private sector, as well as a model for future legislation.

Source: Miami Herald online, "U.S. Labor Department strives to be 'model workplace' for gay, lesbian, transgender employees," Steve Rothaus, 28 April 2011

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