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Facilitating the Transgender Transition of an Employee

This post includes an excerpt from material prepared by Dr. Al Carlozzi, Professor of Counseling Psychology, and Dr. Sandy Cooper, Director of Human Resources, both of Oklahoma State University, to supplement their recent CUPA-HR webinar “The Transgender Transition in the Workplace.” We encourage you to watch the recorded webinar and read the supplemental materials to learn more about HR issues related to transgender transitions.

More than 335 institutions registered to participate in last week’s CUPA-HR webinar “The Transgender Transition in the Workplace.” As a growing number of states enact laws banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the issue of transgender transition of employees is surfacing in more and more workplaces, including higher education institutions.

As Dr. Carlozzi shared during the webinar, forming a transition team is a critical first step in helping to ensure a smooth transition for the employee, coworkers and the campus community. The team should include the transitioning employee, a counseling professional such as a licensed therapist, at least one other individual who has made the transgender transition, and an employer representative.  This could be the supervisor, an HR professional or both. The transition team should meet regularly to identify and discuss issues associated with the transition, including:

  • Timing of the Announcement:  Timing should be based on the desires of the transgender employee.  The employee should be in charge of when the announcement is made and should have the authority to postpone or cancel the announcement at any time.
  • The Communication Plan: Decide how to announce to administration, department co-workers, Campus Police, Information Technology, and perhaps even a broader audience of students, faculty and staff if appropriate.  Obtaining support from administration can be critical when announcing to other audiences.
  • The Announcement to Co-workers: Many times the transgender employee will have prepared a statement to read to their co-workers.  After the initial announcement, it is suggested that they leave the room so the transition team can assist with questions and emotions.  Allowing co-workers to express their surprise and ask questions in a non-threatening environment, while setting the tone for expectations of future behavior can be a delicate balance.  The more knowledgeable the transition team is on transgender issues, the more likely the outcome will be successful.
  • Temporary Change in Work Duties: If the employee is in a position that works extensively with the public, allowing time for the information to be made available to various constituents may allow for a smoother transition. This should be a short-term change that has a well-planned exit strategy.  There is no need for the person’s presentation as one gender to another to be gradual or phased in.  Once the initial announcement has been made to co-workers, the transgender employee should report to the workplace in their new gender identity.
  • Use of Bathrooms:  The general rule, for both safety and practical reasons, is that the individual should use the restroom of the gender they present.  The transgender employee may prefer to use a gender-neutral restroom, but should not be forced to do so.
  • Training: Promotion of a culture of respect and inclusion can happen at any time. However, if you have not had diversity training specific to sexual orientation or gender identity issues, now is the time.
  • Policy and Law Review: A thorough review of your EEO, harassment and discrimination policies should be conducted to ensure that they are up-to-date and compliant with federal, state and local law.  This area of law is changing rapidly.

“The Transgender Transition in the Workplace” was presented by CUPA-HR in partnership with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) on November 13, 2013. For additional resources, check out our previous blog post Resources to Prepare Your Campus for Transgender Transitions.

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