Steps to Ensure a Transgender Employee is Supported in the Workplace

03.16.2015

Employment laws protect transgender people from discrimination and harassment.  Many employers may not know what to do if an employee tells his or her employer that he or she is transgender and will start dressing and identifying as a different gender in the workplace.  It is important to take some proactive steps to make sure the employee is comfortable during any transition and does not face discrimination due to his or her transgender status.  It is also important to prepare the employee’s co-workers and supervisors for the change. 

Certain topics should be discussed with the employee to ensure he or she is comfortable at work and with how the change will be handled.  Specifically, talk to the employee about the following:

  • Discuss the employee’s transition process with him or her generally, so that the employer knows what to expect.  The employer should not demand specific medical information, but should have a basic awareness of what changes may occur to plan how to respond to those changes or any questions. 
  • Find out if the employee will be undergoing a name change.  If so, employment documents should be changed to that name when the employee requests it.  Also make sure that the employee can change any photo identifications required to reflect the identified gender. 
  • Talk to the employee about his or her preference on how and when co-workers should be informed and what information co-workers should receive.  The employee may want to minimize the number of people aware of the transition or may want to be more open about the process. 
  • The employee should be able to use the restroom of the gender with which he or she identifies.  If the employee prefers a gender-neutral option, this can be provided if available, but the employee should not be required to use a gender-neutral restroom unless that is the policy for all employees.
  • Discuss how the employee’s customers or clients should be informed if that is necessary or how their questions should be answered. 
  • Discuss expectations with the employee regarding potential conflicts and difficult conversations. 
  • Designate either a supervisor or a Human Resources employee to be the employee’s resource to come to with any problems, concerns or complaints of harassment or discrimination. 

Certain actions should be taken within the company as well to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. 

  • Review current employment policies to make sure that gender identity is included as a protected category in the equal employment policy and harassment policies.
  • Make sure employment policies make clear that the employer welcomes all employees.
  • Include transgender topics in any regular employee training on discrimination and harassment.
  • Ensure there is no dress code that applies certain rules to one gender or the other.
  • Conduct a training on transgender topics for the employee’s primary supervisors, at a minimum.  Determine if any other management employees should be including in a training.
  • Consider a joint meeting with HR, the employee’s primary resource, the employee and his or her supervisors to discuss any questions or concerns.
  • The employee’s co-workers should be informed about the gender transition to the extent that the employee is comfortable with it.  This should cover the behavior the employer expects from the co-workers, as well as an update on company policy, including non-harassment and discrimination policies.  It is recommended that the employee not be present at such a meeting so that co-workers will feel comfortable asking questions. 
  • Keep up with personnel paperwork if the employee decides to legally change his or her name and/or gender in the future.
  • Immediately begin changing your pronoun use for the employee and encourage others to do the same.