What issues should I anticipate when an employee changes gender?

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Question:

One of our supervisors just informed me that he is planning a transition from male to female, and would like our company's support in making the change. He is a very valued employee, and I want to be helpful -- but I have no idea how. Are there any legal requirements in this situation? What kinds of issues should I plan for -- and how should I handle them?

Answer:

Dealing with transgendered employees can be a tough issue for employers, in part because this is a relatively new area of law. Like you, many employers want to be supportive, but don't know how to go about it. And certainly, many employers are fearful of the legal issues that might come up when an employee transitions from one sex to the other.

The legal landscape regarding transgendered employees is in flux. A handful of states and more than fifty cities and counties have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity -- an issue that generally comes up when an employee identifies as one gender, but was born into (or is perceived as belonging to) the other. An employee doesn't have to have undergone sex reassignment surgery in order to be protected by these laws. If your state or locality has a gender identity statute, contact your state or local labor department for information on what the law requires.

A variety of practical issues can arise when an employee transitions from one gender to the other. Basic documents -- such as ID badges, beneficiary forms, and employee rosters -- will have to be updated to reflect the employee's changed gender. You will also have to figure out which restroom the employee should use, how to inform coworkers of the change, and whether some workplace training is in order, among other things.

For more information, check out the website of Transgender at Work, www.tgender.net/taw/. It offers lots of information geared specifically towards employers, and focuses on helping employers and employees work together to create a supportive workplace environment.

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