Transgender employees face some of the highest rates of gender discrimination in the workplace. From refusal to hire to violations of privacy, and even physical and sexual violence, the workplace is a territory fraught with unpleasant occurrences. The rate of discrimination and harassment is staggering:
- 90 percent of transgender people have experienced harassment at work.
- 44 percent claim they were passed over for a job.
- 23 percent were denied a promotion because of their transgender status.
- Over one quarter were fired because they were transgender.1
In general, transgender people are shut out of the mainstream economy at alarmingly higher rates than non-trans people:
- Transgender people are twice as likely as straight people to be unemployed, and four times more like to live in poverty.
- 20 percent have been or currently are homeless.2
There are countless stories behind the numbers. Many people who disclose that they are transitioning are told that their behavior is inappropriate and will make co-workers uncomfortable, and they are terminated. This is a scenario that's all too familiar for trans people even today.
Certainly, other employees may feel uncomfortable in the presence of a transgender co-worker. They might not know how to act, and may sometimes claim that their religious beliefs prevent them from accepting transgender people and using the same restroom as a trans person, and voice similar objections. However, it is important to remember that this same argument was once used to argue against desegregation in the civil rights era.
Co-workers with religious objections must understand that while they're entitled to their beliefs, they do not have permission to harass or discriminate against other co-workers. Acceptance of trans people in the workplace does not constitute changing one's religious beliefs – the focus should be to create an atmosphere of respectful behavior, regardless of each individual's beliefs.
Access to healthcare that covers issues related to transitioning, or that are specific to transgender people, is still a work in progress. Although 28 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer transgender-inclusive health benefits,3 there are still barriers to trans people receiving the healthcare they need.
Unemployment and poverty led one in eight transgender people to become involved in the underground economies of drugs and sex work. And these statistics – indeed, all of the statistics regarding harassment and discrimination against trans people – occur at even higher rates for trans people of color.4
There is currently no federal law protecting transgender people from discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), however, has made transgender issues part of their platform, and it has been arguing cases under the aegis of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to extend protections to transgender individuals.
Certain states have enacted laws that expressly offer protection for transgender people. The ACLU website is a good resource for more information about each particular state's policies. Federal employees also have additional protections for transgender workers and contractors.
Still, federal courts and the EEOC have laid the groundwork for what constitutes sex-based harassment and discrimination, and employers in the public and private sector – no matter what jurisdiction they're in – can face legal action for the following:
- Invasive or disrespectful personal questions
- Denying you access to bathrooms consistent with your gender identity
- Forcing you to use a specific restroom separate from other employees, or one that is unsanitary or unreasonably far from your work station
What Your Company Can Do Now
Regardless whether or not your state offers protection for transgender employees, companies should be aware that the EEOC is actively pursuing cases in the public and private sectors nationwide where transgender employees are harassed, marginalized, or unfairly terminated.
It would be wise to enact a policy of non-discrimination and ensure your workers are up to speed on sensitivity training on transgender issues so your company doesn't run the risk of violating hostile work environment laws. Things you can do to start the process are:
- Have a gender-neutral dress code.
- Include trans issues in your diversity training.
- Amend your diversity policy to include transgender employees.
- Have workplace training sessions to ensure employees know not to act in a way that could be construed as discriminatory.
If your company has an employee who is transgender or is transitioning, you should:
- Make sure other employees use the name and gender pronoun that the employee now identifies with.
- Allow that employee to use the restroom that corresponds with his or her new gender identity.
- Offer training for other employees on the basics of trans issues.
To learn more about how to foster a welcoming environment for trans people, or if you've experienced or witnessed discrimination of a transgender person in your workplace, contact one of our Atlanta employment attorneys today, and we can guide you through the process of improving your work environment, or addressing the inequities you or someone else might be facing on the job.