Employers, how many of you are still using “M” or “F” designations on your applications, benefit forms, training materials, or throughout your handbooks? WAKE UP! We’ve all gone tone deaf to catch phrases designed to identify a class of people; “Gen X”; “Gen Y”; “Millennials”… but what would you do as we head into the next generation of identification and one of your employees informs you that they would prefer to be treated as a “nonbinary” individual? How many employers have even heard of this term? As more and more transgendered individuals fight for workplace recognition free of stereotypes and discrimination, we will see the rise of the “nonbinary” (neither male nor female”) designation. Expand your horizons beyond labeling someone as “Mr.” or “Ms.” and be prepared to start recognizing the term “Mx”.
According to a recent survey, some 33% of all transgendered workers would prefer, if permitted a choice, not to be assigned neither gender designation. Many transgendered workers report being harassed or discriminated against on account of their gender identification. Some states, notably Oregon for example, have started to allow the option of not listing a gender on official documents, permitting individuals to mark “X” as opposed to “M” or “F”. However, this is the exception to the rule. At the Federal level however, courts have yet to include nonbinary designations as a protected category involving Title VII or other gender related non-discrimination statutes. Employment law however, is fluid, and changes to reflect evolving social awareness. It is only a matter of time before transgendered employees are afforded the full protection of all our employment laws, including the right to identify as “X”.
Enlightened employers can take several steps NOW to proactively address the situation and make your work environment more welcoming to nonbinary individuals:
- Review your policies, handbooks, work forms, websites and other documentation to specifically remove gender designations. “His” or “Her” can easily be replaced with “They” or “Their”. It is easy to say an employee must turn in “their” time records at the end of the day;
- For internal demographics purposes, consider adding an additional box “in another way” or “prefer not to identify”;
- Revise your anti-discrimination policies and procedures to include nonbinary designations as another category that should not be considered when making any employment related decisions. Moreover, you should consider including nonbinary designations as an area where mistreatment is not permitted in any fashion;
- Consider revising your dress code policies to eliminate gender related restrictions and distinct categories of rules for each gender;
- Review your bathroom situation and determine whether you need to create private unisex facilities that are available to employees at any time;
- Educate your management on the acceptance of the nonbinary employee(s) in your workforce (or those likely to enter your workforce);
Communication, education and acceptance are keys to a successful work environment. Regardless of whether a current employee asks to be designated as nonbinary after having previously assumed a male or female designation or if a brand new employee identifies as nonbinary from day one, you should take steps to maintain a work environment of tolerance and mutual respect.
For many employers, this topic may prove unsettling. Most individuals like to consider themselves as enlightened until pressed to defend a viewpoint they might not personally agree with. The civil right movement of the 1960’s should have taught us all that by now. Individuals in the workplace deserve to be treated as just that, individuals. Gone are the days of the “colored only” bathrooms, bus seats, and drinking fountains. As we race through the 21st century workplace, we come upon the dawning of a new day. Employers must adapt to many new aspects of our society and culture, and nonbinary gender identification is just the latest development that requires everyone to open their eyes to this new reality.
With over 34 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by the changes to the employment laws. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at www.boznoslawoffice.com/contact-us through our website.