Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What’s In a Name Anyway

As children, a hurtful taunt was often to call a boy by a girl’s name or a girl by a boy’s name. Maybe the hurt was borne from the apparent repudiation of the child’s fundamental identity in their gender, but kids who taunted that way definitely intended to humiliate and bully their target. 

Adults as well are often particular about their names. Most don’t like it when people impose an unwanted nickname or call someone by a name other than the one of their choosing. This can also become an issue for non-conforming gender workers. Employees who do not live or present themselves as a member of their assigned gender often face confusing and sometimes humiliating situations in the workplace when called by the wrong name or pronoun, either purposely or inadvertently. The problem is that transgender or transitioning workers may legally have a different name than the one they choose to use to better reflect their affirmed gender. How do employers handle this?

It’s fairly clear that payroll records must be established in an employee’s legal name to assure proper reporting to the IRS and credit with Social Security. But what if an employee’s legal name is not the same as their preferred name (not unlike all of those men whose legal name is John but they go by Jack all of the time)? 

We recommend a very simple solution. When enrolling new employees, require them to report their legal name and then allow them to identify their preferred name. This provides employees from the start of their employment the chance to establish the name by which they want to be called, which is a huge step in acknowledging and respecting their gender identity. Similarly, along with allowing employees to state their preferred name, allow them to establish preferred pronouns. This is especially helpful when an employee has a name like Cameron or Taylor which is used as much by men as women. Allow employees to submit a change of preferred name just as they would submit a change of name form if they married or divorced, with the difference being that an employee can change their preferred first name. Implement this practice uniformly among staff. 

Last year the EEOC formally took the position that discrimination based on gender identity met the definition of gender discrimination as contemplated in Title VII. The Illinois Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Avoiding transgender discrimination can start with identifying and respecting an employee’s preferred name.