• International Workplace
  • 21 February 2018

Transgender employees: not only the medically transitioned need support

A recent case involving a transgender employee has highlighted the continuing challenges and discrimination that trans-staff face in the workplace, and the action employers should be taking to address these.

A Tribunal has ruled that Alexandra De Souza, who worked at Primark as a retail assistant from September 2016 until February 2017, when she resigned, was subjected to gender reassignment discrimination by her employer, who told her she had a “man’s voice” and “smelled like a men’s toilet”.

De Souza has been a transgender woman for around 16 years. The Equality Act 2010 protects those trans-people who are ‘proposing to undergo medical intervention’. According to LGBT charity Stonewall, this leads some employers to presume that only those who transition with medical intervention require support, or those who are transitioning from male to female or female to male are protected. Many trans-people don’t want to undergo medical intervention or don’t need to, says Stonewall, but they will still require support to transition at work. Similarly, some people, for example those who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid, may or may not propose to undergo medical interventions. They too require support.

Stonewall commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey asking more than 5,000 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people across England, Scotland and Wales about their life in Britain today.

The findings, presented in LGBT in Britain: Trans report, demonstrate how the lives of many trans-people at work remain difficult, with many facing bullying and discrimination, including an alarming number of trans-employees who have been physically attacked at work. Trans-employees often deliberately hide their identity because they fear being discriminated against at work.

One in eight trans-employees (12%) have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year. Half of trans- and non-binary people (51% and 50% respectively) have hidden or disguised the fact that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination.

One interviewee said:

“I was pressured to 'come out' as trans to a senior manager of my department and HR, owing to work issues. I moved departments as I felt I could not return to a hostile environment following sickness from work because of the stress caused by this issue and the treatment by a senior manager.”

Another commented:

“I recently resigned my post due to being bullied by a manager after a conversation between myself and a few friends was leaked regarding my transition. I was bullied into self-harm, suicidal ideation, and resigned as I felt I had no other option. I am now struggling to get a job because I'm transgender.”

Stonewall recommends all employers should develop clear zero tolerance policies on transphobic bullying, discrimination and harassment policies, supported by all-staff training. It advises:

“You should proactively create a transitioning at work policy to ensure you have the correct support mechanisms in place for staff if they intend to transition while working for your organisation. Your policy should be specific to transitioning at work.

“To ensure that staff feel supported during transition you should create a suite of documents which complement and work alongside each other. This suite of documents should include:

  • A short policy document – a concise three or four page policy;
  • A definitions document – kept separate from the policy to update as necessary;
  • A guide for managers – guidance for line managers around supporting trans-staff; and
  • A frequently asked questions (FAQs) document – written from several different perspectives.

“Whatever your suite of documents look like, they should be flexible enough to encompass the many different ways people can transition, placing the trans person in the centre of the process and ensuring they’re in control.”

Stonewall has created a range of documents to assist employers in creating an inclusive environment for all employees, which can be accessed here.