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Biden's First Directives Have Workplace Implications

President Joe Biden wasted no time to exert his influence following his inauguration on Wednesday, as he signed 17 executive actions — several of which affect the workplace.


A key directive from Biden was strengthening workplace discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The order directs federal agencies to follow last year’s U.S. Supreme Court finding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to sexual orientation and gender identity, essentially prohibiting federal employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. This will mandate LGBTQ inclusion in discrimination rules across housing, education, health care and other sectors.

WorldatWork CEO Scott Cawood said the June Supreme Court ruling was “significant” and that it goes far past the benefits and protections that were previously offered to the more than 8 million LGBTQ workers in the U.S.

The Biden team also put forth a definition for equity as “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities, such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and other persons of color; people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ); people with disabilities; religious minorities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

The order “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” will require all federal agencies to review equity within their ranks and deliver an action plan within 200 days to address unequal barriers to opportunity found within agency policies and programs. Additionally, the order revoked former President Donald Trump's executive order that limited the ability of federal government agencies, contractors and some grantees from implementing some diversity and inclusion training.

The order requires a review of whether government contracting and procurement opportunities are available on an equal basis to all eligible providers of goods and services.

COVID-19 Directive
Biden also announced a “100 Days Masking Challenge” as part of an executive order that requires masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors as an example to other employers around the nation. Biden will ask the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with state, local, tribal and territorial officials to implement masking, physical distancing and other CDC public measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The executive order on “Protecting Worker Health and Safety” seeks to reintroduce worker safety guidelines and enforcement at the Department of Labor’s workplace safety division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The order directs OSHA to update its COVID-19 safety recommendations for businesses within the next two weeks, review its enforcement efforts and study whether an emergency temporary standard, which employers would have to comply with, is necessary.

“Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative,” Biden wrote in the order. “Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the [pandemic]…The Federal Government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.”

About the Author

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Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.            

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