**Updated 11/7/13 Senate passes Gay rights bill banning discrimination.
**Updated 4/27/12 EEOC rules transgender workers a protected class. More information below.
Male to Female Transgender in the Workplace
Self expression and being authentic in life and at work are trends that are only likely to continue. Last month the state of Massachusetts signed into law forbidding discrimination based on gender identity to anyone seeking housing, employment, or post-secondary education. Also earlier this year (April 2011) the state of Hawaii signed a transgender workplace protection act into law. Meanwhile California presented a cross dressing protection bill also in April of this year.
Bottom line. . . the times they are a changin’.
In HR and the world of work, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable and unpredictable workplace conversations. From topics of sleep apnea causing sleeping on the job and performance related problems to employees requesting bereavement leave to mourn a furry friend, the random poop smearer in the men’s bathroom, to the day I had one of the most uncomfortable and controversial conversations I will never forget.
Sam walked into my office hunched down not looking me in the eye. He was clearly nervous and uncomfortable but like most employees who arrive at HR’s door, he had a question to ask and a story to tell. Sam [whose name has been changed] began by asking about our leave of absence and time off policies then moved on to several unrelated questions regarding our company health benefits. He was clearly beating around the bush so I asked the question, “Is there anything else you want to talk about?”
Sam’s answer was yes.
He told me how he made the decision a couple weeks ago to begin the long process to go from man to woman. The decision and transformation involved not only surgery but months of therapy and hormone treatments as he would prepare for the change to transition from male to female – Sam to Sandy.
In the early 2000’s, the topic of transgender in the workplace was a relatively new one, but it didn’t make it any less important as Sam, myself, my store manager, and my VP of HR began to formulate a plan. Keeping the lines of communication open with Sam, and our small group, we worked to make him feel comfortable every step along the way. We discussed his comfort level with when and how he wished to inform his co-workers and if he felt comfortable sharing.
Sam was a relatively tenured employee and was eligible for FMLA. He was liked, respected, and completely terrified, but I, along with my team worked to support him regardless of our own personal beliefs and beliefs of others to help him along his personal journey transitioning from male to female.
In 2008, I met a woman who touched my heart as she shared her story of how her own HR Manager led a campaign of hate sending out a company wide email alerting company employees to the woman’s new name and bathroom arrangement. Outside of a single conversation nothing had been discussed. She was mortified as I was mortified for her while ashamed of the very profession where I’ve worked.