Transgender people can have a tough time at work, and this can be even more the case during transition. Supporting an employee who is transitioning is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a business decision – many transitioning employees leave their jobs, so ensuring they are supported during this time will help retain their skills, experience and knowledge.
Here are 10 steps you can take to support an employee going through transition in your business.
1. Take their lead
Don’t make assumptions about what they want. People are all different, and how they want to handle the situation; what changes they want to make at work; who they want to tell and when; and what support they would find useful might not be what you’d automatically think. Let them take the lead and ask them what they would prefer.
2. Plan and review
If an employee notifies you that they will be beginning the transition process, it is sensible to devise a plan of action together, including how to handle a variety of issues that are likely to crop up before, during and after the transition. Of course during the process other things may arise which haven’t been thought of, timescales may change, and the employee’s preferences may change, so keep the plan under review.
3. Names, pronouns and employee records
A transitioning employee will probably wish to be addressed by a different name, and it is your job to ensure that their choice of name is respected. Similarly their choice of pronoun should be respected. You don’t need to have a gender recognition certificate in order to change the details on their employee records, and should take their lead on when they want this to happen. Make sure as part of the plan covering transition that you have identified all the various places employee details are kept, so that you can make sure they are changed at the appropriate time.
Pension providers, providers of health insurance or similar benefits may require a gender recognition certificate. You should check with the various providers to see what they require, and ensure the employee’s consent is obtained before you contact them.
4. Adjust duties
It’s not necessarily easy to adjust duties in a small business, but an employee who is transitioning may wish to adjust their duties either temporarily or on a permanent basis, perhaps if they are in a public-facing role. Don’t assume, but if they do want this, consider carefully whether it is possible and accommodate the request if you can.
5. Telling people – when and how
It is likely that there will be a fair number of people who will need to be informed at some point during the process, including close team members, the wider organisation, clients, suppliers and other regular contacts. You and your employee should identify all the people who will need to know, and agree who will be told, how much information they will be told, and when, and also how. Your employee may prefer to tell people themselves, or may want you to do so.
People may have questions, so you and the employee should discuss how (or whether) questions will be answered. In a very small business, a team meeting, either with or without the employee present, might be appropriate. People will need to know practical details, such as name changes and pronoun use, and also how best to support their colleague.
6. Time off work
Your employee is likely to need some time off work at some point for gender-reassignment-related treatment. The amount of time off varies, as does the length of time the process takes, so again you need to ensure you communicate well with your employee and agree how the absence will be handled.
Employees should not be penalised for taking time off for medical treatment in respect of gender reassignment, so if you operate any kind of ‘trigger’ system where a certain amount of sickness absence results in a disciplinary process or similar, you should ensure this absence is recorded separately.
7. Dress codes
During the transition process you may need to relax any dress code requirements or restrictions you have. Similarly, if your employee’s role involves a uniform, and there are different uniform requirements for the gender the employee is transitioning to, you should ensure the alternative uniform is available from when the employee wants to wear it.
8. Facilities at work
From the point the employee declares they are living in their preferred gender, they should be able to access the appropriate toilet and changing facilities accordingly. You could consider providing some individual gender-neutral facilities, but you shouldn’t force a transitioning employee to use those instead of the normal single-sex facilities if they prefer not to do so.
You may find other employees are concerned about their transitioning colleague having access to the toilet or changing facilities for their new gender. You should handle these concerns with understanding and reassurance. Many single-sex toilets in a variety of public places/workplaces are cleaned by someone of the opposite gender, plus clearly private cubicles are available.
9. Ensure policies are inclusive
Now is a good time to review your various HR policies and ensure they are inclusive, and address any transgender issues. Look at policies on bullying and harassment, equality, sickness absence and any other policies you may have that might be relevant.
Other employees may not have come across this situation before, and may genuinely not know how they are ‘supposed’ to handle it; what vocabulary they should use and what is and isn’t acceptable.
As well as encouraging your transitioning employee to indicate their individual preferences about support required, some specific training for the team on transgender issues might be sensible, to ensure colleagues have a better understanding of the difficulties their colleague is facing, and feel more equipped with knowledge and confidence about how they should/shouldn’t handle the situation.
If you have an employee going though transition and want some advice on how to support them, how to adjust policies or want some training for the team, do get in touch.