Worked Up At Work

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Fairness In The Employment Setting Can Be Everything

Treating employees with complete fairness is never easy.

I am now working closely with two organizations: The Transgender Institute (TTI) and the Gender Policy Associates (GPA).

TTI is an organization that provides therapy, consultation and coaching to transgender people. This is a population that is much misunderstood; in schools they are subject to much bullying and at work they are subject to discrimination.

The prevalence of this population is astounding: They make up one percent of the total population; that is, one in 100 persons are transgender. My focus is the workplace and I will be devoting this and the next several blogs to addressing the needs of this population and to employers because I believe that the transgender population is the next frontier in social justice.

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Getting to the point where the transgender person is comfortable “in their skin” is only half the battle. The other half is how they are accepted after they come out. My focus is on the employment setting and in helping employees and employers cope with this matter as it unfolds at work. There are lessons here that can also apply to other workplace topics.

I am not going to spend much time talking about the medical condition called Gender Dysphoria. I have already touched on the social science side quoting prevalence studies. If you want more information I suggest you go to the TTI website: www.transinstitute.com.

What I do want to concentrate on is providing insight to transgender people who are employed, insight for non-transgendered employees who will be working alongside transgendered co-workers, and information to their employers regarding compliance. Every time someone comes out, there is an opportunity to support and assist. Additionally, every time an employee comes out, there is an opportunity for a law suit and/or a complaint to the EEOC or to the State Human Rights Commission. The law is pretty clear, especially under a Democratic administration: this population's rights are protected and the fines and consequences for violating their rights are STEEP. Beyond the legal and financial consequences, the interpersonal sequences are significant.

Transgender people coming out at work are putting themselves on the line with great courage. They are asking for the support of their co-workers and supervisors. We spend a significant amount of time at work, and relationships at work are very important in each of our lives. Being discriminated against is one thing but being rejected is quite another. This is where social justice comes in to play.

I will be devoting the next several blogs to this subject, but I ask you to consider the issues at the fairness level first. I will be going into the legal level later on. For now, employees and employers, think in terms of what is fair and just for the employee. Think in terms of what that employee is thinking and worrying about: how will I be treated at work? Will I lose my job? Will I be gossiped about? They have considerable capital built up in that they are more often than not quality people and engaged employees. They are wondering and hoping if that capital will be enough to see them through their coming out?

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., C.M.C., is the president of Labor Management Advisory Group and HR Solutions: On-Call, and the author of Mess Management: Lessons From a Corporate Hit Man.

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