This year’s news has been filled with the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn.  This is certainly not the first time that a celebrity has undergone a sex-change operation and it is highly unlikely it will be the last.  However, the public support extended to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has prompted numerous individuals to come forward and begin their own transformation.  As a result, many employers are not prepared when an individual announces that he or she is a transgender and will begin the process of transitioning to the opposite sex.

Typically, the employee will share their intent to go through gender reassignment surgery with the Human Resources Manager or another trusted manager in the organization.  Here are some tips to help you respond appropriately to such an announcement.
1.  Treat the employee respectfully.  It can be a shock when someone you’ve known as “Bruce” tells you he now wants to be known as “Caitlyn”.  Recognize that this was probably a very difficult announcement for him to make to you. Acknowledge that.  It’s also okay to let the employee know that you haven’t dealt with this situation before and that you’ll both have to learn how deal with the challenges of this transition as they come along.

2.  If you aren’t the top executive in your organization, you need to share that with him or her.  The intent is to let the top executive know what’s happening and educate him or her about the situation.  The executive should be advised about the legal issues surrounding transgender issues in the workplace.  But, more importantly, the top executive needs to commit to prohibiting other managers and employees from discriminating or harassing the individual who is seeking gender reassignment surgery.

3. Develop a process for the employee to announce his transition.  The employee should help the company develop a plan for announcing to his or her manager and co-workers that he will be seeking gender reassignment surgery.  It is probably a good time for the company to schedule its annual harassment/discrimination training to coincide with the announcement.  Specifically state that there is an expectation that a transgendered person will receive the same level of respect and consideration as any other co-worker and that discrimination and/or harassment of a transgendered person will not be tolerated.

4. Restroom Access. Which restroom the individual uses is probably the greatest cause of angst in the workplace. It is reasonable for an employer to adopt a policy of having the employee use whichever restroom matches their full-time gender presentation, regardless of whatever stage the person is in relative to his or her overall transition process.

5.  Legal Issues.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, to extend to individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  In particular, there is protection for the individual who doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes.  Some states and municipalities (including Orlando) have adopted ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued guidelines concerning transgender employees and restroom use.  See https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3795.pdf.

6.  Other Considerations.  This is an opportunity for you to check your group health insurance policy to see if includes coverage for the gender reassignment surgery itself.  It’s also an opportunity for you to develop your check list of what you need to do once the surgery is complete:

·         Issue new company identification/badge/business cards.

·         Arrange for a new nametag on the door/desk/cubicle.

·         Update your records to reflect the employee’s new name and gender.

·         Notify insurers (health, life, dental, etc.) to update the employee’s new name and gender.

·         Update the employee’s email address to reflect his or her new name.

·         Update your payroll records after the employee presents a new social security card reflecting the new name.
This is new territory for employees and employers.  Developing a plan of how your business will respond to the issue of transgender employees in the workplace will enable you to manage this transition more effectively and avoid claims of discrimination and harassment.
Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here to learn more about EAF membership benefits http://eafinc.org/about-eaf/value-of-membership/.