The 2010 Equality Act states that employers have a legal obligation to ensure their staff are not being discriminated against – over age, race, sexuality, gender or gender identity. Despite this, many companies treat transgender people as a disruptive influence in their workplace, worrying about how they will manage in a customer-facing role, or if they will upset existing employees. This is the wrong attitude; the first step to being an inclusive employer is accepting that a transgender person is just another employee with the same rights as any other member of staff.
Creating a supportive environment for transgender employees ultimately means allowing them to take the lead on expressing their gender identity. Unless someone tells you they are transgender, there is little need to raise this at an early stage of their time with your company. If you want to actively show support, you could say: ‘We have a strong equality policy and want to make sure everyone is treated fairly. Is there anything we could do to make sure this is the case for you?’ This will help encourage their wellbeing without you explicitly raising their gender identity – remember that you might not always know whether a person is transgender or not.
Each transgender person is different: some consider themselves non-binary or intersex, and may wish to be referred to using different pronouns (he, she or they), which employers and colleagues should be mindful and respectful of.
Your role as an employer is to listen to the concerns of transgender staff and take them seriously. If they want to openly disclose being transgender with other employees, you can ask if they would like you to talk to their team first, or if they would prefer to play it by ear. You could then discuss how they would like to communicate this – by holding a meeting, circulating an email or allowing them to speak to their colleagues individually.
Many employees will want to be helpful and encouraging to a transgender colleague, but in some places there is still harassment – passing on jokes by email, poking fun at another employee or laughing when they go past. This can escalate into bullying situations.
While debates over bathroom use for transgender people have been prominent in the last few months, the law states that anyone can use any toilet unless they are causing a public nuisance. If an employee reports feeling uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a transgender colleague, you can create a workaround for them – but never ask a transgender person to use the disabled facilities, or take any step that singles them out.
With a series of tiny adjustments, employers should be able to ensure a tolerant environment that shows they are listening.
Jennie Kermode is a journalist and author of Transgender Employees in the Workplace