Florida passes the nation’s first law restricting how employers talk about race at work

Legislation restricting how race is discussed in the workplace was approved by Florida lawmakers and sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, paving the way for the first law of its kind in the country.

The measure takes aim at any corporate training that makes employees feel discomfort or distress by suggesting that they are responsible for actions “committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.”

It is part of a nationwide push to control how issues of race and identity are taught in corporations. DeSantis has made battling “critical race theory” one of his top legislative priorities.

The state Senate on Thursday voted 24-15 along party lines to approve the measure. If signed by DeSantis, workers could sue their employers

This is a major moment for the anti-critical race theory movement. We have translated our intellectual efforts into concrete public policy,” conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who advised DeSantis on the legislation, wrote in his newsletter.

Across the country, conservatives are pushing bills that put varying limits on workplace diversity training. The measures tend to use language banning “divisive concepts” such as “an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”

In December, DeSantis urged his state’s GOP-led Legislature to pass legislation.

DeSantis first announced the policy agenda for it as the “Stop WOKE Act,” at a December event. Since its first mention, the CRT ban was the subject of intense debate.

House Bill 7, officially called “Individual Freedom” was designed to “expand” Florida’s Civil Rights laws and protections, according to its text and supporters. But critics of the bill argue that it would, instead, silence some parts of history from being included in Florida’s educational curriculum.

During each step of its process through both the Florida House and Florida Senate, the bill remained on a party-line passage. Some amendments were proposed before a full floor vote, after the House amendment process failed.

Changes that had been proposed included amendments to add “gender identity and sexual identity to those protected against discrimination, leaving the term “ethnicity” in the affected statute instead of changing to “color,” leaving health education instruction on “mental and emotional health” instead of removing it, and adding “LGBTQ+” to the list of racial, ethnic and religious topics for “celebrating diversity” rather than just “tolerance.”

HB 7 says that any discrimination leveled toward any individual includes any training or lessons that “as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination” or that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts”:

  1. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another
  2. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
  3. An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin
  4. People cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin
  5. An individual bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
  6. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion
  7. An individual bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin
  8. Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another

The bill says none of the topics listed above are banned from inclusion “as part of a larger course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”

In its final step before a full vote in the Senate, every amendment proposed to adjust the legislation also failed. As of Thursday afternoon, HB 7 was ordered enrolled, sending it to be signed into law.

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