When Rand Hoch gets a call from someone who believes they were discriminated against at work, he has two initial questions for them: where did this happen, and how many people are employed there?
Unfortunately, in Palm Beach County, businesses with less than 15 people are exempt from equal opportunity ordinances. The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council wants to change that, and this summer they started the “Fifteen to Five” Campaign, which would decrease the number of employees a small business must have and still be covered by the law.
“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,’” said Hoch, the president and founder of the PBCHRC.
But it goes beyond sexual orientation.
In an email blast to subscribers, the group announced the campaign and said 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.”
The law, which was enacted in the ‘60s, originally called for 15 people 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 less popular.
“When the Supreme Court determined that the civil rights laws cover employers for both sex and gender identity, we took a look at the law again here and we looked at our own laws and realized we still also had 15,” Hoch said of Palm Beach County.
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 and now businesses with five or more employees cannot discriminate against its employees.
Now, PBCHRC is working to get this protection passed across the county.
Since they were founded in 1980, the group 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. Part of its work is to educate legislators on issues that they may not realize exist in their community.
“When you educate someone while they’re running for local office and let them know this is our group, this is what we do, this is why we do it, we would like your help in doing this, as they move up in office, they realize that LGBTQ people not only exist but we’re often not provided with the same benefits or the same protection,” Hoch said.
He cited the example of this summer’s Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBT employees from discrimination — prior to that decision, many people didn’t realize that in most counties in Florida, “it was perfectly legal to tell someone ‘Oh, we don’t hire lesbians.”
The PBCHRC brought their “Fifteen to Five” campaign to the Palm Beach County Commissioners this summer and are hoping it will make an item on the agenda this fall. They anticipate that it will pass.
To learn more about the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and its work, visit pbchrc.org.