Transgender people often experience discrimination, harassment, and a lack of understanding, including from their work colleagues and bosses. Regardless of one’s personal views, as an employer, it is important to create a safe and inclusive environment for all employees, including those who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming. An unhealthy or even hostile work environment can have a wide impact on both the productivity and morale of employees across the organization.
Here are five steps you can take to support transgender and gender-nonconforming employees at work:
1. Develop policies that explicitly address transgender employees. This can include guidelines for transitioning on the job, restroom and locker room access, dress codes, and pronouns.
It also includes updating your existing equal employment and anti-harassment policies to ensure that they include “gender identity” as a protected class. These policies should also include protecting transgender and gender-nonconforming employees from discrimination and harassment by customers, vendors, contractors, and other third-party non-employees.
For a deeper dive into types of policies, see the Human Rights Campaign’s guide on Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace.
2. Provide training for all employees on transgender issues, including your anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. This training should help to increase understanding and reduce discrimination and harassment. Policies and training are only as good as your commitment to holding your employees accountable when they fall short of your expectations.
Managers especially must buy in and be held accountable when their team members violate these rules.
3. Offer benefits that cover gender-affirming health care, such as hormone therapy, gender confirmation surgery, specialized mental-health coverage, and equitable parental leave.
4. Create a culture of respect and inclusivity. This can be achieved through regular communication on these issues; diversity, inclusion and diversity celebrations and initiatives; an LGBTQ+ employee resource group and conversations; conferences; and trainings that specifically address the transgender and gender-nonconforming community.
Inclusivity starts at the top. If the C-suite acts as outspoken advocates and allies for transgender employees in the workplace, its attitude should filter throughout the organization.
5. Listen to and support transgender and gender-nonconforming employees. If an employee comes out as transgender, it is important to provide support and resources to help them navigate the transition process. This includes allowing them to present as the gender of their choice, use the restroom of their choice, and use the pronouns of their choice, all without fear of retribution, reprisals, or harassment.
In addition, be sure to understand the needs of each employee. For example, some employees may feel comfortable being introduced to the office by their new name in a meeting. Others who are more introverted may feel uncomfortable about this and prefer to talk to their coworkers on a one-on-one basis.
All employees must feel physically and psychologically safe at work, regardless of their gender identity. HR has a responsibility to create and foster a safe, welcoming, and inclusive workplace. A business may not be able to change the underlying beliefs of its employees, but it can change expectations of employee behavior towards their trans work colleagues.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Wickens Herzer Panza in Cleveland and one of America’s top writers and speakers on employment-law topics. Read his popular blog at www.OhioEmployerLawBlog.com.