One of the key topics in diversity and equality in recent months has been around transgender individuals. As an employer, do you understand your obligations towards transgender members of your workforce?
Transgender refers to those who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth, it is deemed to be an umbrella term which encompasses non-binary (those who identify as neither male or female), transsexual (those making a permanent change to reassign their gender) and transvestites (those who typically dress as the opposite sex).
To understand your obligations as an employer, these terms needs to be broken down and considered separately.
Transsexual employees are the only group above which are covered under the Equality Act 2010, as the act states that gender reassignment is one of the nine protected characteristics. Gender reassignment is defined as “[a person who is] proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.
It is important to note that the reassignment does not require any medical intervention; it can purely be choosing to live their life as the opposite sex
Non-binary and transvestite employees are not currently covered by equality legislation however; a transvestite person could be covered if they were treated less favourably based on a perception that they are undergoing gender reassignment.
So with this in mind, what do you need to do?
You have a responsibility to treat your workforce fairly and no less favourably because of any protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. You also have a responsibility to ensure your staff are not subject to bullying, harassment or discriminatory behaviours by their colleagues. On this basis, clear equal opportunities, dignity at work and investigating claims of bullying and harassment policies are essential. Training on these policies at the start of employment and continually throughout employment is important to ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities under the policies.
Consider amending all other existing policies to use gender-neutral terminology such as they, them, their as opposed to his/hers, him/her, he/she to show the inclusive approach you are taking as an employer.
Robust equality training for line managers would be beneficial; it would also encourage open conversations from employees who may be affected by adverse behaviour from colleagues or just want to start a conversation about their preferred gender identity.
In terms of the workplace itself and facilities, general guidance is that transgender staff should be able to use the relevant facilities to the sex they identify as – insisting a transgender employee use the disabled toilet would see you fall foul of the Equality Act.
You may have questions about how the wider workforce may feel in these circumstances and the key to combat this is communication. Should an employee come to you and inform you they are transgender then ask them suitable questions to make sure you have a clear understanding of their wishes. At this point you can agree on what the rest of the workforce are told, it is important to get the transgender employee’s agreement on any information that is communicated about them.
Clear and open policies, practices, training and conversations will allow for an open and tolerant workplace for transgender employees.
If you need any assistance with policies, training or communication regarding transgender members of staff please get in touch.