In a speedy vote, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners unanimously amended its Equal Employment Ordinance.
The ordinance now reads that small businesses with five or fewer employees are exempt from the ordinance, as opposed to the 15 it had previously.
“It’s important to note that there was no opposition on this item, that this community stands fast in making sure that we protect the rights of all of our citizens in Palm Beach County,” Commissioner Gregg K. Weiss said during the Tuesday meeting. “We’re just making a further statement of where we stand as a county.”
The campaign to lower the number of employees in the ordinance was spearheaded by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. Dubbed the Fifteen to Five Campaign, the initiative began in the summer — currently, Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas Counties have lowered their ordinances to at least four or five people working in a business. With assistance from the PBCHRC, the city of West Palm Beach amended its own equal opportunity ordinance in August.
Rand Hoch, the founder and president of the PBCHRC, explained that the original ordinance was enacted in the ‘60s to protect family-run businesses that wanted to keep employees in the family, hiring their children, cousins, uncles and aunts to help run the business. However, calls have been made to make the number fewer as these sorts of businesses are fewer in number.
“There are very few calls I get with five [employees] or less, but I have received calls over the years for businesses that have maybe 10 or 12 people that I would have to say ‘I really can’t do anything for you because your employer is not covered by the law,’” Hoch said.
When PBCHRC asked the Palm Beach County commissioners to look into changing the ordinance, the staff at the county's Office of Equal Opportunity communicated with local business community members for their input. Hoch said there were no objections.
But the ordinance goes beyond sexual orientation. In an email blast to subscribers last year, PBCHRC wrote that they have received “hundreds of complaints of employment discrimination from LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, other minorities, and women, who worked at small businesses. Unfortunately, there was little we could do to help.”
“It is encouraging that in these challenging times, our county commissioners and small business owners are on the same page and agree that job applicants and employees should be considered on their ability to do their jobs, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and other characteristics that have nothing to do with job performance,” Hoch said.
PBCHRC was founded in 1980 and has helped enact more than 140 laws and policies protecting employees and people from discrimination. They are the oldest independent and nonpartisan LGBT group in the state.