Transgender employees

Managers and workmates must act lawfully and should support transgender employees who are transitioning or intending to transition, or are having issues at work.

The Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People in 2008, confirmed that trans people face significant discrimination in day to day life.

The majority of submissions about discrimination focused on employment.

Transitioning at work

Gender transitioning is a unique and personal experience.

Employees should discuss with their employer what steps they are intending to take within the workplace and what this means for other staff and possibly clients. The employee can bring a union delegate or other person along for support. It is good practice to develop these steps into a written action plan, so that the employer and employee are able to agree how to manage any issues around the employee’s transition and how the employer may support the employee. It might include identifying what information is relevant (and that personal medical details do not fall into that category), who needs to be told and how and when they will be informed. It can be useful to discuss a possible timeline including any dates when the employee would like to be:

  • known by their new name if applicable
  • referred to by new pronouns
  • able to adopt a workplace dress code matching their gender identity
  • able to use facilities such as restrooms and changing rooms matching their gender identity, and
  • able to take time off work for medical treatment relating to their transition, if necessary.

It is important that the employer sets a good example to other employees and is supportive and reassuring during the employee’s transition. This will help the employee to carry on with their job as usual.

Transitioning and other employees

The employer should discuss with the employee how to inform other employees. The transitioning employee should decide how much and what information other employees will be told. It is important that other employees are informed of the situation and the employer’s expectations of their behaviour. Properly informing other employees helps stop misunderstandings and rumours and also discourages inappropriate behaviour, discrimination, harassment or bullying, from other employees. If an employee has any concerns, it is important that the employer resolves them fairly and quickly. The employer should emphasise that any workplace policies relating to trans employees are not special rights or privileges. The employer should explain that such policies ensure that all employees are treated with respect, and are not subject to harassment or discrimination, regardless of sex, age, ethnicity or gender identity or sexual orientation.

Transitioning and customers

In most cases interacting with a trans employee won’t be an issue for customers. If a customer raises concerns, the employer should confirm that the employee is a valuable member of their staff and that their gender identity or expression has absolutely no effect on their ability to perform the job.

Name and records

The employer should ask what name and pronoun the employee wishes to use. If the employee wants to formally change these details in the workplace, the employer should arrange for details to be changed on all workplace records (eg identification cards, email, phone lists, payroll), including any past records.

Dress code

The employee should be able to wear the dress code style that matches their full-time gender presentation and gender identity, and this should be similar to people of the same gender performing the same work. Employers should avoid having a dress code based on gender stereotypes and should enforce any dress code consistently.

Use of the bathroom and changing facilities

The use of facilities that match their gender identity is particularly important for trans people. It is part of the ‘Real Life Experience’ that is taken into account when health professionals assess whether someone is ready to medically transition. An employee should be able to use facilities that match their gender identity, for example: trans women should be able to use a women’s toilet, and trans men should be able to use a men’s toilet. While a unisex toilet is a positive way to ensure facilities are inclusive (and may be more comfortable for a trans person early in their transition), a trans employee should not be stopped from using the appropriate single sex toilet.

If a trans employee prefers to use a single sex toilet, an employer may wish to include this in the agreed action plan, including a process for informing other staff, including stressing that all staff, including trans employees, have the right to expect privacy and safety when using these facilities.

Medical transition

Not all trans people will transition medically, or through surgery. The immediate medical needs of an employee who is intending to transition are most likely to be for counselling appointments or to see a medical specialist. Any leave should be treated by the employer the same as any other medically necessary appointments for any other employees. There may be special provisions in an employment agreement that clarify sickness or medical leave, or access to an Employee Assistance Programme or other counselling support. Employees may use their entitled sick leave where necessary.

Useful definitions

Name Definition
Sex A person’s biological and physical make-up, defined usually as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ and including indeterminate sex.
Gender The social, and cultural construction of what it means to be a man or a woman, including roles, expectations and behaviour.
Gender identity A person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male or female (or wherever they find themselves on the gender continuum). A person’s gender identity may or may not correspond with their sex.
Gender expression How someone expresses their sense of masculinity and/or femininity externally.
Trans people People who refer to themselves, among other terms, as transsexual, male-to-female, female-to-male, transgender, whakawahine, fa’afafine or tangata ira tane.
Transgender A person whose gender identity is different from their physical sex at birth.
Transsexual A person who has changed, or is in the process of changing, their physical sex to conform to their gender identity.
Transitioning Steps taken by trans people to live in their gender identity. These often involve medical treatment to change one’s sex through hormone therapy and may involve gender reassignment/realignment surgeries.
FtM/trans man Female to Male – someone born with a female body who has a male gender identity.
MtF/trans woman Male to Female – someone born with a male body who has a female gender identity.
Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Akava’ine, Mahu, Vaka sa lewa lewa, Rae rae, Fafafine Pasifika terms describing someone born with a male body who does not have a male gender identity and often, but not always, lives as a woman. These terms are best understood within their cultural context.
Whakawahine a Maori term describing someone born with a male body who has a female gender identity.
Tangata ira tane a Maori term describing someone born with a female body who has a male gender identity.

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