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Transgender Employees: What Are Their Rights?

Important questions on a topic that includes basic workplace issues.

This is my second in a series of blogs on this subject. I am a tourist in transgender land because I am not transgender; however, I am concentrating on this population because I agree with others that the transgender population represents the next frontier in social justice.

Creating a safe and hospitable work environment is not only the right thing to do, it is also necessary because they have significant rights and protections from the state and federal government. Violating their rights creates serious legal liability. No manager or owner wants this kind of trauma or drama interfering with the flow at work.

Let’s consider the prevalence. Social research indicates that the number of transgender folk is one in a hundred. That is one percent of the population! When you factor in the people who have not yet come out, the number increases dramatically.

Chances are you know someone who is dealing with this matter, whether you realize it or not. While therapists are assisting with the people “adjusting to the process of going from male to female or going from female to male,” co-workers and supervisors are also going to be asked to assist. Because we spend so much time at work and because work relationships are so important, how the transgender person is treated at work means much.

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The transgender person has the right to exist and to exist at work. Owners and supervisors also must recognize that not accommodating them or discriminating against them is a form of sexual harassment. Gender identity-based sexual harassment carries the same weight as any other form of sexual harassment. The fines from the government can be as high as 25 percent of the net worth of the organization! This is just the start. Once a substantiated case of sexual harassment is documented, the fine is levied and the government opens the door for a civil suit with restitution to the victim, legal costs and court costs—all paid by the business owner or corporation. It is a firestorm that is intended to bankrupt the business!

There are also risks for the owners and supervisors from the non-transgender co-workers. They are going to be asked to share restrooms and make other accommodations. Future blogs will detail these matters, but let’s start with this: these are your fellow co-workers. They are at a fragile and vulnerable place. They will need your understanding and your cooperation. I pray you will give it to them. Your employer will be counting on it as much as your transgender co-workers.

If you are a transgender person, please write to me. I am glad to become a friend and a resource.

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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