Caitlyn Jenner’s Unveil Forces the Discussion of Transgender at Work

The topic of transgender is one the media loves, and frankly I’m glad that they do because it’s something that needs to be discussed. It’s a lot more prevalent than people realize. I know I certainly wasn’t aware until I was approached by an employee who was going through a transgender change in the early 2000’s. There was no handbook, resources or much information on how human resources as well as employers should handle someone who was transitioning from female to male or male to female. Heck, there wasn’t a lot of information for the transgender community, but this year that has really changed.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Unveil Forces the Discussion of Transgender at Work

The topic of transgender has made the mainstream media news with Caitlyn Jenner’s unveiling on Vanity Fair this week. Frankly, I’m excited that the topic of transgender is being discussed in coffee shops, break rooms and book clubs. I’m excited it’s a public topic because it hasn’t always been. It has certainly been taboo. It was hard as heck to support an employee let alone educate her managers and employers on what transgender was or was not or is and is not. Main stream media is providing a platform for discussion. It’s not a dirty little secret, and more importantly it’s not something we can terminate employees for or tell them they can’t dress or be their true selves in the workplace.

In addition to Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, OSHA has also released yesterday a bathroom best practices guide for transgender workers and their management teams. You can access it by clicking here. It was the first question my managers had when I shared with them our employee’s decision to transition and one that we were asked by many employees.

The bathroom guide is only the first step in discussing and providing support for a growing employee population. There is still yet a long way to go. It’s not even enough that the EEOC now recognizes Transgender status as a protected class under Title VII. At present 21 states offer protection against sex discrimination (see graphic below).

The EEOC’s stance on this topic was helped along by a number of employment law cases with some as early as 1977:

  • May v. Holder
  • Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins
  • Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, Inc.
  • Sommers v. Budget Marketing, Inc
  • Holloway v. Arthur Andersen & Co

Many states are banning individuals who are transgender from access to healthcare. At present there are 15 states (see below)  that have laws that protect access. The issue of affordable access to healthcare are concerns for your transgender employees and/or their family members which is turn should be a concern for an HR representative at a company.

Regardless of your beliefs it doesn’t matter. HR’s role is to provide resources and support to the employee population while also keeping the company in compliance within the law. Sometimes that employee support involves investigations for workplace discrimination, assisting with questions in regard to healthcare coverage, FMLA leave requests and providing the support they need as a transgender employee. Often times, HR is responsible for having hard conversations with business leaders to advise them to comply with employment law. That includes the cases I mentioned as well as the guidance set forth by the EEOC.

Some say the Caitlyn Jenner magazine cover is over the top. In my eyes that is a good thing. Employers, business leaders and HR should be discussing the subject of transgender, familiarizing themselves with law and educating themselves as well as the business leaders within the organization how they should handle a situation if an employee approaches them with the news they are transitioning. They should be talking with their employment attorney. Jenner’s story provides us as business leaders with an opportunity to educate, plan and reflect on how we would and should handle a situation or scenario at our company. It provides more than coffee shop talk and break room banter. It facilitates business leaders an opportunity to reflect and make a change.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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