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?
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.
From a legal standpoint, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that transgender employees are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ____ (2020)). Prior to that ruling, about half the states and a large number of cities had laws barring gender identity discrimination. Note that an employee doesn't have to have undergone sex reassignment surgery in order to be protected by federal law.
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.
The issue of bathrooms for transgender employees has sparked much debate in recent years. Some states, including California, Washington, Vermont, and Iowa, specifically require employers to allow workers to use the bathroom associated with their gender identity. And, in light of the recent ruling in Bostock, any employer who forces a transgender employee to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth is inviting a lawsuit.
If other employees have privacy-related or other concerns, employers can remain on safe legal ground by providing single-occupancy, gender-neutral bathrooms as an alternative to shared bathrooms.