Yesterday, the Ohio Chamber testified in support of House Bill 160, legislation that would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in Ohio. While the Ohio Chamber generally opposes adding to the list of protected classes under Ohio’s anti-discrimination statutes, this particular issue has become more of a business issue for a number of reasons.
In advancing Ohio’s business climate, our main goal, the Ohio Camber recognizes the value and power of diversity. We believe that employees deserve robust protections from discrimination and that discrimination of any type has no place in the workplace. Everyone deserves the right to do their job without fear of being discriminated against and every person, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender identity, deserves equal opportunity and equal protection under the law. Thus, for the following reason, we testified in support of HB 160. Further, the Ohio Chamber has supported such measures in the past while advocating for updates to Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws to bring balance and predictability for employers.
One of the Ohio Chamber’s goals is to ensure that Ohio is not at a disadvantage in the recruitment, attraction and retention of top talent and investment. In order to compete, Ohio businesses need the best and brightest talent from all walks of life to feel welcome and to call Ohio home. Numerous individuals who also testified at the hearing stressed that whether these protections were in place was a key factor in deciding whether to relocate to Ohio for job opportunities. Ensuring that Ohio’s future business competitiveness is good for all of Ohio and enhances respect for all employers and employees is key. These protections will further show that Ohio is a hospitable and welcoming place to live, work, and start a business.
Looking around the country, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently have laws on the books like HB 160. Further, a little closer to home, nineteen municipalities in Ohio currently have similar anti-discrimination laws on the books including Akron, Athens, Bexley, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Columbus, Coshocton, Dayton, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Kent, Newark, Olmsted Falls, Oxford, Toledo, Yellow Springs, and Youngstown. As with other areas of labor and employment law, a patchwork of local labor ordinances creates a compliance nightmare for Ohio’s employers. HB 160 would provide a uniform statewide anti-discrimination standard and process for Ohio’s businesses and workers. This would allow for simpler compliance and knowledge of the law.
Previously, in 2009, the Ohio Chamber testified on HB 176 in the 128th General Assembly which would have also added discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. As we did then, we believe that employment decisions should be made based on an individual’s qualifications, not on the basis of non-job-related characteristics. At that time the Ohio Chamber voiced its support for these additional protections while also recognizing that other changes are needed to bring balance and predictability to Ohio’s discrimination laws. Changes that also still need to be made today.
Other Necessary Changes
While the Ohio Chamber believes that Ohio’s employees deserve workplaces free of discrimination, we also believe that there are other improvements that must also be made to Ohio’s discrimination laws. Ohio currently has the longest statute of limitations in the country for these types of claims, six years, creating logistical burdens for employers. Most states are in the one to two-year range. Employers are also forced to defend claims in both the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and in court simultaneously which is costly and inefficient for both businesses and the state. Lastly, Ohio’s age discrimination statutes are confusing even to the most trained attorneys and HR practitioners. These pieces of Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws differ greatly from the analogous federal law and anti-discrimination laws of other states. Simply put, Ohio is an outlier in many of these areas and, as stated previously, uniform, or at least similar, standards ease compliance burdens for employers and allow for greater compliance. House Bill 2, which is a bill that was negotiated between the Ohio Chamber, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and the trial bar addresses many of these issues while still protecting employees from discrimination. House Bill 2 was favorably reported by the House Economic Development, Commerce, and Labor Committee and is awaiting action by the full House.
Simply put, adding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will help businesses attract the best and brightest talent and ensure that Ohio is viewed as a welcome and hospitable place to do business. It will also provide a statewide standard where there has not previously been one eliminating the need for a patchwork of local labor laws, easing the compliance burdens on businesses. Nevertheless, the technical problems and administrative burdens of complying with Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws must also be addressed for Ohio to have balanced and predictable anti-discrimination laws.