How do you manage the situations created when an employee undergoes a gender change? No matter what your personal views on the matter may be, as a supervisor, it’s your job to help the team member transition within the workplace and minimize the impact the employee sex change has on staff and productivity.
What is a transgender employee? The term is a broad definition for people who have a sense of gender that is different than the gender of their birth. It can be a man who identifies as female or a woman who identifies as male. A transsexual is a transgender person who lives full time as the gender opposite their birth gender. The person may or may not undergo medical procedures to alter the body’s appearance.
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Laws vary regarding an employee who undergoes a gender change. A number of jurisdictions, including California, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Washington D.C., have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity. The worker may be protected by these laws even if they haven’t undergone sex reassignment surgery. Always check with state and local labor departments to learn about transgender employee laws in your area.
Federal courts have also provided some protections for employees who undergo gender change. For instance, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discrimination against a woman who didn’t conform to female stereotypes was, in fact, a form of sex discrimination.
When the employee everyone has known as Robert shows up one day as Rosalie, it can be a shock to the team. The best way to handle an employee gender change is to create a transition plan. What should you consider in a plan for the employee who undergoes gender change?
Paperwork: From changing the worker’s gender on employment forms to changing their name, you’ll need to update documentation, which might include insurance forms, ID cards, and even organizational or workflow charts.
Restrooms: You and your employee should discuss which restroom he or she will use.
Pronouns: He or she? Always find out from the person experiencing a gender change how he or she would prefer to be addressed.
Workplace Education Session: The most successful plans include creating a workplace where the transitioning worker’s team members are informed of the situation. Begin the session by explaining that their co-worker will be transitioning into a different gender. Give co-workers an opportunity to openly ask questions. Providing a forum to ask even uncomfortable questions helps relieve tension that these unfamiliar situations may trigger in some employees. Most importantly, be sure that your staff member who is undergoing the gender change has input into your communication strategy every step of the way.
You may find that staff struggle with your employee’s gender change because of their personal religious views. The best way to handle these situations is to let the employees know that, as a supervisor, your concern is creating a respectful workplace–not upending their personal religious convictions.
Other staff may have concerns about their co-worker’s job performance. For example, employees who rely heavily on team members, such as a group of firefighters, may have concerns about whether the gender change will affect the transitioning employee’s ability to aid another firefighter during an emergency. Address any concerns or misconceptions head on. Other than the co-workers outward appearance, remind staff that their colleague is the same person that they were before the change. A gender change does not automatically equate to a negative change in performance.
In addition to creating a transition plan, consider making gender identity discrimination part of your corporate nondiscrimination policy. This will reinforce the company’s decision to hire and maintain staff based on their job-related qualifications. What’s more, it creates an environment of diversity that is more likely to attract highly-qualified candidates who may not feel welcome in other organizations.
An employee who undergoes a gender change can seem to create a challenging situation, especially if you haven’t been faced with it before. But by working with your transgender employee, you can make the transition smoother for your staff member, and his or her colleagues.
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