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From Bruce to Caitlyn

Last week 1972 gold medallist Olympian Bruce Jenner was introduced to us as Caitlyn Jenner. July’s issue of Vanity Fair features an image of Caitlyn on the front cover with the headline ‘Call me Caitlyn’. Her new twitter account took the world by storm with over 800,000 followers in a matter of hours. Caitlyn’s first tweet said ‘I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me’. There has been huge public support for Caitlyn. Whether you agree with it or not, as an employer you should know how to deal with a transgender issue should it arise in the work place.

Gender reassignment is not an easy option, especially in the two years that the person has to live as the gender he or she wishes to become. The period of social, personal and surgical change has its challenges. Employers are expected to support the individual, in particular in helping with the communication announcing the change and ensuring that colleagues, suppliers and customers respond appropriately. Bizarrely, the concerns of employees tend to revolve about which toilets they will use. Most of the transgender employees I have met to date have been male to female and they report that their female colleagues say “he can’t use our loo” and the men say “she can’t use our loo” and the poor employee is stuffed, as it were, into the gender-neutral disabled toilet, which is really not acceptable. Frankly, I can never see the issue with loos, but we’re all different.

Transsexual people are entitled to equal treatment of the gender they wish to become so telling him or her to use the disabled facilities would not be appropriate and could lead to a claim of discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of gender reassignment. Anyone who proposes, has started or completed a process to change gender is protected under the Equality Act. There is no requirement for an individual to be undergoing medical supervision in order to be protected.

Communication is key to supporting someone through the process of gender reassignment. Discuss with the individual about how he or she would prefer the information to be communicated to colleagues. Some people will be happy to talk about their transition while others will not feel comfortable in doing so. As is the way in life, you may find some people do not agree with gender reassignment. It is important to remind these people that while that may be the case, discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated and any such behaviour may lead to formal action being taken. Unwanted conduct in relation to gender reassignment which has the effect of violating one’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading or humiliating environment is harassment. Harassment falls under the discrimination legislationMs and is unlawful.

At a time agreed by both you and the employee, records will need to be changed to reflect the acquired name and gender of the individual. This may include HR documents, email address, work pass and company directories.

There are very few exceptions of when it would be lawful to ask a candidate to disclose that s/he had been through gender reassignment at the recruitment stage. It almost never happens. An individual who has been through gender reassignment may change all official documents including passport and birth certificate, so in many cases of gender reassignment you would never know.

An online petition has been started to strip Ms Jenner of the medals earned during the Olympics. Why for Heaven’s sake? The gender reassignment did not affect performance during the 1972 Olympics, nor are the gold medals impacting on the life she has decided to live today.

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