Transgender Employees: What’s an Employer to Do?

The following is a guest post provided by Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss, Associate Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College, who researches this area, as well as consults with corporations and writes a popular blog on the subject, Transgender Workplace Diversity. She has now authored the new book described below, Transgender Workplace Diversity: Policy Tools, Training Issues and Communication Strategies for HR and Legal Professionals.

Basic Facts on Transgender Diversity

“Transgender” means someone with a non-traditional gender identity, such as transsexuals (with or without sex-reassignment surgery) and cross-dressers.

The subject may seem esoteric, but the population is probably about 1% transgender, and the number coming out at work is growing (currently about 1 in 1000 in corporate America).

Twenty-five states have law prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity or expression” in employment, another half-dozen have legislation pending, and almost one hundred cities have ordinances on the subject. The subject is particularly important for organizations that operate in these jurisdictions, as well as those that wish to be seen as employers of choice or consider themselves diversity leaders.

About the Book

Transgender Workplace Diversity: Policy Tools, Training Issues and Communication Strategies for HR and Legal Professionals is a practical how-to guide, discussing the terminology to know, the legal landscape, and the HR process.

Overall, this book’s strength is its practicality. As noted in the introduction, there is purposely no discussion of gender theory, legal history, medical controversies or other academic issues of secondary concern to HR and legal professionals.

This volume remains firmly rooted in the practical question: “What do I do now?” It solidly addresses the main issue faced by HR and legal professionals in the organizational environment: what steps to take when notified of an imminent gender transition in the workplace.

The book is targeted to the needs of employers who are facing transgender issues and want an accessible resource for creating transgender-friendly policies, training management and co-workers, and providing effective communications with clients and customers working with transgender employees.

It provides a roadmap and detailed explanations for organizational leaders, managers, GLBT affinity groups, and employees who want to get their employers on the right track with authoritative information targeted to the modern workplace.

The Book’s Contents

The book begins by providing transgender basics, including the correct terminology to use, and an explanation of the gender transition process impacting the workplace.

It discusses gender identity law and policy, such as bathroom and dressing room issues, identification and records changes, and health benefits for transgender employees.

It includes a sample gender transition policy, training guidelines, and HR/legal frequently asked questions. An appendix contains legal information important to understanding the complex landscape of federal, state and local regulation.

Fortunately, the table of contents is issue-oriented, including such topics as medical issues, anti-discrimination statutes, policy tools for gender transition, and sample step-by-step guidelines for HR managers.

For the lawyer,
the book contains detailed discussion of the law of gender identity and a comprehensive sample policy for gender transition. An Appendix includes the text of relevant regulations issued by OSHA, the EEOC and three major cities, as well as the major court opinions on Title VII, state disability statutes, and bathroom and dressing room usage.

What to Do?

So what do you do if an employee comes out as transgender? One thing not to do is wait until that moment. Prudence would not suggest waiting until a fire to install a fire alarm.

A policy should be in place governing the steps that HR should take, including whom to notify, how to notify them, confidentiality, internal and external resources, and how to address corporate policies, including such crucial issues as facilities usage (which bathroom?), record-keeping practices (M or F on the I-9?) and health benefits (are they excluded?).

Planning should occur in regard to facilities access, employment records, insurance benefits, and concerns of co-workers and customers, and the solutions will be different in various types of organizational environments. Financial institutions have different needs than manufacturers, and the book provides solutions that are flexible enough for both.

With the help of this book, HR and legal professionals will be able to plan for transgender employment issues and avoid the headache of trying to figure out what to do at the last minute.

For those who already have issues, but no plan, it provides a model plan that can easily be adapted to the needs of a particular employment environment.

This issue would appear to present challenges for employers as well as transgender individuals. I would suggest that regardless of the status of the law in a particular jurisdiction, every effort should be made to handle it sensitively and fairly, with an understanding of the nature of the transgender experience.

I don’t know much about the underlying gender identity issues, but feel that this is not a matter of a “lifestyle choice,” but one of fundamental, deeply rooted personal identity.

It appears likely that an employer that hires a transgender person, or supportively continues to employ one through a transition, will wind up with a loyal, productive employee.

I would guess that successfully making the transition would make one generally happier and more comfortable, which would likely be reflected in quality and quantity of work. Just a guess. Maybe Dr. Weiss has data or will research this . . . .

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