South Carolina may have avoided the “bathroom bill”, but the debate has certainly brought transgender issues to the public eye. It has made all of us think a little more about this issue and how it affects our own life.
First, let’s properly define transgender. Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation. Transitioning is the term used to describe the process through which a person changes his or her outward gender to the gender he or she identifies with. The transition process is different for everyone and it may involve social changes, medical steps, and changing legal documents.
Legally, there are many state and local laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender people. Recently, the Department of Justice took the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to gender identity, including transgender status. The EEOC which interprets and enforces Title VII has seen an increase in cases related to transgender discrimination. In fact, both OSHA and the EEOC have recently issued fact sheets to help employers regarding bathroom access for transgender employees.
It is important to know the laws, but what do you do when your employee, Joe, walks into your office and informs you that he is now Jane?
Here Are Some Thoughts to Guide You:
- Some employees may feel uncomfortable with Jane. Jokes may arise and harassment may follow. Have a zero tolerance policy on harassment. All employees, Jane as well as the rest of the staff, should feel safe and respected.
- Add diversity training that includes gender identity and expression.
- If an individual identifies as a specific gender, then treat them accordingly. Use the proper pronouns and preferred name. Make sure all employment forms are changed to reflect this identity.
- Allow employees to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. If this causes issues with the other employees, then re-group and find a solution. The employer must address all employees’ fears and concerns which is no easy task. Get HR involved and make a good faith effort to determine which facilities are appropriate.
Non-discrimination policies address conduct in the workplace, not individual personal beliefs. These protections do not require anyone to change their religious or moral beliefs. Rather, the legal protections help to ensure that all employees may perform their jobs free from discrimination.
And most importantly, don’t forget the HUMAN in Human Resources. Talk to your employees, make them feel comfortable and always follow the Golden Rule (more on that here). Regardless of whether you are talking to Jane or Joe, your employee is still just a person who wants to be respected.