Though it took longer than expected, President Barack Obama has signed an Executive Order extending protections against workplace discrimination to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) community. Signed July 21, 2014, the Executive Order prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, adding to the list of protected categories. It does not contain any exemptions for religiously affiliated federal contractors, as some had hoped. Religiously affiliated federal contractors still may favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions.

The President directed the Secretary of Labor to prepare regulations within 90 days (by October 19, 2014) implementing the new requirements as they relate to federal contractors under Executive Order 11246, which requires covered government contractors and subcontractors to undertake affirmative action to ensure that equal employment opportunity is afforded in all aspects of their employment processes. Executive Order 11246 is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The Executive Order will apply to federal contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the forthcoming regulations. OFCCP likely will be charged with enforcement authority.

We recommend that employers who will be impacted by this Executive Order review their equal employment opportunity and harassment policies for compliance with the Executive Order. For example, employers who are government contractors should add both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under these policies and ensure that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that discrimination is not tolerated against LGBT employees.