Trans workers face distinct challenges in the workplace. These range from physical spaces such as gendered facilities to discrimination and harassment. Creating a working environment that enables your trans staff to be themselves in the workplace also promotes acceptance among staff who are not trans.
Trans workers and protection from discrimination
Under the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, gender reassignment is defined as being 'a process which is undertaken under medical supervision for the purpose of reassigning a person's sex by changing physiological or other characteristics of sex, and includes any part of such process.' Protection against discrimination extends to those who intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone the process of gender reassignment.
Note: In England, Wales and Scotland the law defines gender reassignment in broader terms than in Northern Ireland in that the process does not need to be undertaken under medical supervision.
How to avoid workplace transphobia
Transphobic language can create a hostile environment for trans people and which may amount to bullying and/or harassment. Employers and staff at all levels of an organisation should be proactive in challenging transphobia. Some examples of transphobia in the workplace and actions you can take to prevent it occurring are outlined below:
- Speculating about someone’s gender – speculation can lead to insulting gossip and can undermine the person's dignity. If you are unsure you should respectfully ask which pronoun the person prefers to use.
- Purposefully ignoring someone’s preferred pronoun – this undermines the person’s gender identity and sense of self. If a member of staff has asked to be referred to by a certain pronoun then you should respect this and ensure others in the workplace respect this too.
- Disclosure of someone’s trans history – for some people, their trans history is part of their past and not their current identity following transition. You must not disclose an employee’s trans history unless they have given you their explicit consent.
- Referring to someone’s trans history – some people may be guarded about their trans history and others may be more open about it. However staff should be respectful and avoid comments about ‘how an individual was before’.
- Inappropriate questions about medical treatment – an individual’s medical history or ongoing medical treatment is a private and personal matter. A trans person’s body is their own and their gender identity is not validated by biology. Staff should respect the trans person’s identity and their right to privacy.
- Questioning someone’s ability to ‘pass’ – ‘passing’ refers to when a trans person ‘passes’ for someone who isn’t trans. Telling someone they could be more ‘convincing’ is both insulting and degrading. Staff should respect a person’s gender identity regardless of whether they conform to standard notions of gendered beauty.
- Use of toilet or changing facilities – employers should avoid discriminating against anyone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment (see definition outlined above). Such persons should normally be free to select the facilities appropriate to the gender in which they present, this becomes more so the further they have progressed in the gender reassignment process. For example, when a person who is undergoing a gender reassignment process starts to live in their acquired gender role on a full time basis they should normally be afforded the right to use the facilities appropriate to their acquired gender. Employers should consult their transitioning employee about this and make plans for it. Where employers already offer gender-neutral toilets and changing facilities, the risk of discriminating against transgender people is alleviated.
As an employer you have a legal responsibility to ensure that all your staff, regardless as to whether they propose to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment, do not suffer discriminatory treatment at work. It is best practice to ensure that all staff work in an environment that enables them reach their full potential.