Although the number of transgender individuals in the U.S. is relatively small, the topic remains huge. It is definitely the year when transgender rights are front and center in the nation and in the workplace. Still, many labor under misconceptions about transgender individuals and their rights in the workplace. Here are the top five misconceptions:
1. Transgender rights only apply to individuals who have undergone reassignment surgery.
One aspect in the demystification of transgender individuals and rights is understanding what it means to be transgender. The word transgender is an umbrella term for people who identify with the gender that does not conform to the one assigned to them at birth. This may mean that a transgender person has undergone or is undergoing gender reassignment surgery, or it may mean that a person is simply living as the gender with which they identify without surgical reassignment.
2. If co-workers are uncomfortable with a transgender co-worker, the co-workers’ comfort comes first.
In fact, the opposite is true. Who uses which bathroom, for instance, is currently a huge topic of debate in some places. OSHA and EEOC have issued guidelines on the subject of bathrooms (as has President Obama to schools) which clearly state that while gender neutral, single bathrooms are best, if an individual complains about a transgender person’s use of the bathroom that they use, it is the one who complains who should be offered an alternative facility – not the transgender individual.
3. Employers comply with the law if they provide a separate facility to the transgender individual.
Separate but equal has been unacceptable for a long time. There can be no separate transgender facility that people are required to use. As we noted above, employees, whether transgender or not, should be provided bathroom and other facilities that they are comfortable using, and not relegated to the transgender facilities.
4. Transgender employees must use their legal name at work.
It is true that employers must report earnings to the IRS and Social Security Administration under an employee’s legal name, even if that name does not conform to the employee’s gender identity, but a transgender employee must be allowed to use at work any name they have chosen to match their gender identity. Repeated or malicious use of a name or pronoun which does not match an employee’s preferred name may be considered harassment under the law.
5. Employers do not have to have a separate policy for transgender issues.
While this might be technically true, the best practice is to establish a policy or procedures for addressing transgender issues in the workplace. First of all, a solid policy and procedures will aid in defense of any claims of discrimination. Secondly, these issues are still new and unfamiliar to many in the workforce. Policies, procedures and training demystify many questions that people ask about transgender rights in the workplace.