Monday, March 10, 2008

Handling the transgender issue

How might a progressive employer handle a transgender employee who, for example, goes from female to male, or male to female? How does one address those in transition? — Concerned About Change That Makes Sense
Dear Concerned: Which bathroom is the new man or new woman going to use? That’s going to be the No. 1 challenge for an employer. Or at least the one that other employees will bring to an employer’s attention.
On the surface, it may not appear that employees having sex change operations — or sex reassignment surgery — would pose a wide diversity issue. But it happens enough for there to be a number of groups and literature to assist with the decision, a growing body of law that prevents discrimination surrounding the decision, and an increasing number of companies addressing the issue as part of company policy.
And, as with many diversity issues, there is no way to anticipate whether it will impact a particular workplace with subtle sensitivity or like a barreling Mack truck.
Generally, an employer has ethical and legal reasons why it can’t publicly discuss the medical issues of its employees. However, in the case of an employee who goes through gender modification, the issue becomes dicey. Ideally, the person who goes through the gender modification will take the lead deciding when and how co-workers are alerted to this life-changing event. That employee needs to explain the change in name, the correct pronoun references to use, the physical change in appearance and, most important of all, that there will be a shift from using the little boys’ room to the little girls’ room or vice versa.
While some advocates of transgender issues say that concerns about use of the bathroom are exaggerated, employers and human resources people that I’ve talked to disagree. It can end up being an extremely uncomfortable issue because it’s rare and unusual ground and because its implications touch on people’s core concerns about privacy.
If you’re used to working side by side with Ned for years and then suddenly have to get used to seeing him in the bathroom as Nancy, that’s going to be disconcerting for many people.
Although dealing with people in the workplace having sex change operations can be confusing, awkward and even offensive to some, the employer’s primary responsibility will always be to seek information to make the transformation minimally intrusive for everyone and stay within the bounds of the law. A good place to start is

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