Gender Identity in the Workplace - Tips for Transgender Employees
There is no right way to discuss your gender identity with coworkers or to begin the process of transitioning in the workplace. Much will depend upon your individual preferences, your work environment, and the nature of your relationship with coworkers. But here are a few things to think about.
Know Your RightsFirst, keep in mind that discrimination against employees based on their gender identity is unlawful in some, but not all, states. Thankfully, Illinois is one of those states which includes gender identity as one protected category under its anti-discrimination statute, the Illinois Human Rights Act. For employees working in one of those states which do not prohibit discrimination against transgender employees, you may still be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute which prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender. Although that statute has historically been used in the context of employers who treat male employees more favorably than female employees (or vice versa), several federal courts as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have interpreted discrimination against employees because of their transgender status to be discrimination because of gender, thus triggering Title VII's protections. This means that neither your employer nor your coworkers can treat you differently simply because of your transgender status or because you have begun the process of transitioning in the workplace.
Know Your Employer's PoliciesNext, by now many employers' policies are far more inclusive than you might expect - not only including gender identity in their anti-discrimination and retaliation policies, but also providing transgender-inclusive health benefits as well as explicitly providing policies to ease the process for transitioning employees. Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign has an index of employers which indicates that two thirds of the country's Fortune 500 companies include gender-identity as a protected category in discrimination policies and one third offer transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits. It's worth noting that in 2002, just about a decade ago, only 3% of Fortune 500 companies prohibited discrimination against transgender employees. Clearly, things are moving in the right direction. I would recommend that you look to see what policies may already be in place that can assist you if you feel you've been discriminated against, if you are planning to undergo medical procedures related to your transition, or if you are beginning the process of transitioning in the workplace.
Form a Transition PlanIf you are planning to transition in the workplace, there are important questions that both you and your employer will need to consider. For instance: How will your coworkers, managers, customers, and other colleagues be informed? Does your staff require any education or information on gender identity and/or the transgender community? What pronouns would you prefer that your coworkers, supervisors, customers and others use when addressing you? Will your name change? If so, what personnel forms or procedures will you need to complete to formalize that both in payroll as well as in your company email address, internet profile, letterhead, employee directories, desk and/or door signage, etc.? The simplest way to address all of these considerations, in addition to any other questions or concerns that your employer might have, is to start by informing your Human Resources or Employee Relations professional of your transition and asking to set up some time to sit down and formulate a transition plan. Ideally, your employer will have considered these questions before and set forth a policy to ease the transition process for you. HRC reports that hundreds of large employers, in fact, have already adopted gender transition guidelines for employees. But absent those policies, you will have to work with HR to ensure that all your bases are covered.
Beware of RetaliationFinally, while I hate to end this post on a down note, I would be remiss not to note that in some workplaces, there may be a backlash against a transitioning employee or an employee who comes out as transgender or gender non-conforming. As I mentioned above, discrimination of this sort is unlawful in many states and may also be covered under federal law, but sadly that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. Thus, if you begin the process of transitioning and feel that your employer is treating you adversely as a result or if your coworkers have harassed or made fun of you in any way as a result of your gender identity, you may want to consider taking some action to protect yourself - either by reporting the discrimination or retaliation to your manager or HR or by speaking with a lawyer who can advocate on your behalf. We certainly hope that as transgender people continue to become more common in our workplaces, schools, and homes, policies and people will continue to become more accepting and inclusive.