Do you have a policy related to employees who’ve had sex changes? If not, you should consider it, says John Putzier.
“Employers are increasingly adopting nondiscrimination policies pertaining to what are now being called GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) workers, who generally have had no legal protection from being fired if they express a nontraditional gender identity on the job,” says Putzier, the author of the bestselling Weirdos in the Workplace: The New Normal–Thriving in the Age of the Individual (Financial Times Prentice Hall Books).
Indeed, as Putzier points out, The Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, now publishes a Corporate Equality Index that rates companies on their policies regarding workers with nontraditional gender identities.
But forget about unlawful firing for now. Companies need to know how to handle such basic challenges as bathroom usage.
When Is It OK to Use the Ladies Room?
One chapter of Putzier’s book profiles Stu, a professional big-rig mechanic — “a real man’s man,” a Harley-ridin’- beer drinkin’-ass-kickin’ dude who had a knack for fixing engines.”
But, writes Putzier, Stu had a secret. “For years, he yearned to be a woman. Not just a cross-dresser, but a full-fledged woman — physically. Eventually, his medical advisors agreed to support his need, determining that it was in his best interests, psychologically, to pursue the long and difficult process of gender-reassignment.”
After Stu had the surgery and then began receiving hormone therapy, the change became obvious to coworkers. One of the first issues to arise via a mechanics’ union grievance was the question of which locker room Stu/Sue should use and when. Putzier writes, “It was a Catch-22 among the workforce. Neither the men nor the women were too keen on getting naked and showering next to him/her, particularly during the in-between stages of the process. And when does he officially become a she? A decision had to be made.”
Believe it or not, the solution is actually fairly easy, Putzier says. “The employer can defer this decision to the medical profession, specifically [the employee’s] own personal physician or psychologist, as to when an employee uses which locker room while undergoing gender-reassignment. In other words, once Stu/Sue provides a letter of approval or recommendation from his/her doctor that the procedure is advanced to the point where s/he can be considered a woman, that is when the transfer should occur.”
Making Coworkers Comfortable
Sign-off from a doctor doesn’t mean Sue’s coworkers will all of a sudden happily welcome her in their shower room. So, in order to ease the transition for everyone, Putzier says it would also be advisable to:
- Inform coworkers of the basis for the decision (i.e., legal and medical, not arbitrary).
- Review your locker room configuration. “If there is one large, common shower and dressing area, it might be worth considering partitions and more private accommodations,” Putzier says. “Regardless of the Stu/Sue scenario, most employees would rather dress, undress, and shower in private anyway, male or female.”
- Provide “sensitivity/diversity” training to remind all workers of what constitutes sexual harassment and hostile work environment as well as all the potential legal ramifications of working in today’s “new normal” world of work. “It doesn’t have to revolve exclusively around the issue of Stu/Sue, nor should it, although most people will probably figure it out,” Putzier says.
“This is not easy for anyone — not for the employee undergoing the transformation and not for his/her coworkers,” Putzier writes. “There is no denying it; no pretending it will go away; no reason or advantage to side-step reality. It is what it is, and it needs to be out of the closet, just like Stu — or is it Sue?”