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Transgender Employees and Implications for the Workplace

22nd February 2018

Too many transgender employees lack support from their managers in the workplace. Poor awareness about the challenges many people face when transitioning, leave such employees isolated and at risk of being bullied, research has argued.

Employee health and wellbeing – understanding and supporting transgender employees 

Poor awareness from employers about the challenges many people face when transitioning together with a lack of understanding about the law around gender reassignment discrimination, is leaving many transgender employees feeling isolated at work and potentially vulnerable to bullying or transphobia, the conciliation service Acas has recently argued.

Last summer, it published a guide to help employers better understand and support employees who are either transitioning or already identify as another gender. This highlighted that many employers are not up to speed with the law on gender reassignment discrimination. The law protects some transgender employees from unfair treatment at work. For example, it is often left to the victims of transphobia themselves to inform their managers about the details of the Equality Act 2010, it said.

The first thing, for employers to recognise and understand is there are a lot of support tools out there when it comes to transgender employees.

For example, NHS Lothian and LGBT+ Health and Wellbeing, offer this useful guide. This resource from XpertHR offers practical guidance. This guide – even if specifically for employees of Newcastle University – can act as a handy template. Or there is this from the government. There is much more out there too, online, with a quick search.

Acas for one, advises that employers should:

  • Be aware of sensitivities around terminology when managing transgender colleagues and embed policies and practices so that transgender people feel that they belong.
  • Not disclose an employee’s gender identity without their consent apart from in exceptions as set out in law.
  • Ensure there are clear protocols for data management to avoid any non-consensual disclosure.
  • Provide managers with good quality diversity and inclusion training.
  • Ensure all transgender employees are treated fairly, irrespective of whether their gender identity is protected by the Equality Act 2010.
  • Consider how to raise awareness of transgender issues and encourage the use of LGBT+ champions within their workplace.

What then, should employers take away from all this?

First, it's important to recognise that transitioning can in itself create both direct and indirect health issues that need to be managed.

As Acas Head of Equality Julie Dennis highlighted at the time of the launch of its guide: “Nine out of ten trans people have suffered from depression, so employers should ensure that managers are properly trained to support them.”

Yet, second, creating a supportive environment for people who are transitioning or have already done so can bring its own benefits in terms of health and wellbeing, as this recent research has suggested.

Third, employers need to understand the pitfalls of failing to offer adequate support, both in terms of impact on health and risks in terms of potential litigation or discrimination.

Finally, recognise there may be very practical considerations to take into account. This could be anything from use of and access to washroom or toilet facilities. Also consider education and awareness of colleagues and (this is often something managers will worry about) the perceptions and reactions of customers and clients.

Yet, as Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health and speaker at the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Show points out, while these issues are unlikely to be easy to manage, neither should they be considered unsurmountable.

The Gender Identity Research & Education Society estimates that about 1% of the British population are ‘gender nonconforming’ to some degree. This suggests that for many employers, supporting employees who are transitioning, will be something managers deal with very rarely, if at all.

“Nevertheless, if as a manager you find yourself in this situation, it is vital that you understand and recognise not just potential complications of – and have the relevant tools and resources available – but also the productivity and loyalty opportunities that can come from creating a more supportive environment, both for your transgender employees, but also more generally.

Lucy adds “It's important for managers to have the appropriate training and guidance to help manage all employees effectively and sensitively. After all, a valued employee is a valued employee, however fluid their gender.”