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How to Handle a Gender Transition in the Workplace

Posted by Allyson Edwards on Aug 2, 2017 9:43:46 AM
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In the United States, .06% of the adult population identify as transgender. [i] As awareness for these 1.4 million American adults continues to grow, it’s important that employers understand this group of employees, the laws, the potential impact on the workplace, and what HR can do to proactively manage employees undergoing a gender transition.

What is transgender?

The term transgender refers to people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex at birth. Transgender persons include people who are transsexual, cross-dressing, androgynous, and gender non-conforming. [ii] 

In order to express a chosen gender, a transgender person may change from the gender they were given to another gender. A transgender may change their name, dress attire, or even undergo medical surgery to take on the anatomy of another gender.

When does a transition officially happen?

An employee undergoing a gender transition raises a lot of questions for the HR department. One of the most frequently asked questions is, when does a transitioning employee officially become a member of his or her new gender?

The answer is complicated because there is no official point in time when a transgender person changes from one gender to another. Instead it’s a process that evolves over time. HR departments that are engaged with their people and have regular meetings with gender transitioning employees will have better insight. A general approach to follow is once an employee begins to introduce, dress, and take on the role of the new gender, that employee should be treated accordingly.   

How can HR prepare?


Setting guidelines in advanced is a way to help ensure that your people and organization are prepared to handle an employee that might go through a gender transition. Guidelines help to educate employees and align an organization on the protocols and procedures. SHRM has put together this Draft Gender Transition Plan as a way to help HR departments tackle this initiative.

Dress Code Policies

A dress code should avoid gender stereotypes. Instead of requiring men to wear suits and women to wear skirts or dresses, stick to a more general code that enforces professionally appropriate office attire. Employers can legally implement gender-specific codes, as long as they are consistently enforced and do not favor one gender over another. [iii]

Benefit Offerings

Employers need to offer benefits to every eligible employee, regardless of gender identity or expression. It’s also important to extend those benefits to a transgender employee’s spouse, domestic partner, children, or any other dependents.

Employee Communication

Gender transition is a sensitive subject, and if not handled properly, it can be detrimental to an organization’s culture. Proactive conversations and education help build awareness and acceptance to transgender team members. It’s important to put in place policies regarding restrooms and locker rooms ahead of time. Don’t let one of your people be one of the 9 in 10 transgender employees that experience harassment or mistreatment on the job. [iv]

Understanding the Laws

Employers that are not prepared to handle a gender transition are opening themselves up to many risks including discrimination claims. In Macy v. Department of Justice, the EEOC ruled that intentional discrimination against a transgender violates Title VII because that person’s gender identity is, by definition, discrimination based on sex. [v]

In addition to this protection, there are many other federal laws such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and Family and Medical Leave Act if 1993 (FMLA) that apply to transgender employees.

In today’s age, HR departments need to take the necessary actions to cultivate a culture of acceptance. Proactively setting guidelines, educating team members, and staying informed with workplace discrimination laws are just a few ways in which HR can help make the employee gender transition process a little easier on everyone at an organization.

This blog was written by Ally Edwards, Marketing Guru at PeopleGuru™. This post may not be copied or published without PeopleGuru's express written permission.


[i] Flores, Herman, Gates, and Brown. “How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States?” The Williams Institute, 2016,

[ii] Fields, Lisa. “What It Means to Be Transgender.” WebMD, WebMD,

[iii] Campaign, Human Rights. “Workplace Dress Codes and Transgender Employees.”Human Rights Campaign,

[iv] “2017 Workplace Equality Fact Sheet.” Out & Equal Workplace Advocates,

[v] “What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers.”  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2017,

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