Equality in the workplace is paramount and all HR staff and senior managers who interview candidates must be crystal clear on that point. It is imperative to make every effort to be even-handed when faced with the differences that single out individuals as belonging to a minority. Employment law protections start at interview and all the consequences that the law can bring can be felt by an employer if they discriminate. Within the LGBT community transgender people are the most likely to be discriminated at interview.
A recent report by Stonewall on transgender discrimination in all areas of life has highlighted that one in eight transgender employees has been physically attacked in their workplace by either colleagues or customers. Frequently the HR departments are unhelpful and unaware of the law relating to transgender staff. In more than one case the HR departments have put pressure on transgender employees encouraging them to reveal their situation to their managers and colleagues which has not gone well. In other cases, information about a transgender or transitioning employee has been leaked to colleagues. It is expressly against the Equality Act 2010 to reveal a transgender person's status without permission (in writing) and could lead to criminal charges under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
HR departments are strongly advised to develop clear guidelines for transgender candidates and employees, including zero-tolerance policies on transphobic bullying and harassment. Existing employees who make the decision to change gender will require unique support during the process and the HR department is key to ensuring that the process in the workplace is dealt with carefully in a way that does not breach the employee's rights nor expose the business to inadvertent risk. Every situation is different and the following is a broad guide to the sequence of events that is most commonly experienced:
- The employee discusses with their manager or the HR department their intention of undergoing gender reassignment.
- Leave of absence is arranged for medical procedures.
- A discussion as to how the transition is managed.
- Name change, not all transgender staff will obtain a gender recognition certificate. They can live under their new name by simply making a statutory declaration or by changing their name by deed poll.
- If a person does have a gender recognition certificate the HR records must be amended to reflect the new identity, with the exception of the pension and insurance records where the previous identity should be stored confidentially.
- If an employee arrives at the firm after transitioning it is not only unnecessary to have sight of a gender recognition certificate it is illegal to ask for one.
- It is important to ensure that email addresses, door signs, name badges and any other ID, such as photographs, have been amended correctly for the employee's return to work.
- In some instances, it may even involve a change of role.
Dress code is important to transgender employees, especially whilst transitioning; every effort should be made to enable as easy a passage as possible within the workplace. Other employees who work closely with the transgender individual should be reminded to respect the preferred gender of their colleague and avoid relapsing to their previous name.
A carefully managed exercise where the transgender employee is integrated back into the work place is the best outcome for the employer; the expertise and experience of their employee is not lost and the cost of recruiting and training new staff is avoided.
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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.