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An employee’s transition from one sex to another is a process that can take years and that can affect the employee’s co-workers. To ensure that there is as little disruption in the workplace as possible and to help the transitioning worker, HR should partner with the employee in terms of strategy, support and communications, recommended Eva Breslin, SHRM-SCP, an HR legal representative with Intel Corp. in Rio Rancho, N.M.
At Intel, there is a single point of contact for an employee who is transitioning to help him or her through the many changes that must take place at work, she remarked during a concurrent session June 21 at the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition.
Typically, the first step is the employee communicating with or being referred to HR. A transitioning employee who has reached this stage is often ready to start presenting himself or herself in the new gender. HR may need to slow the person down so that he or she isn’t rushing to inform colleagues who may not welcome the news or may even be hostile about it.
HR should schedule planning meetings with the employee to establish timelines, including when the employee plans on communicating his or her intent to transition to co-workers, Breslin advised.
“Give thought to who needs to be told,” she said. The immediate workgroup will need to be informed, but when and by whom? Also, how far up the management chain does the transition need to be communicated?
In one instance, a transitioning employee did not want to be present when HR and the manager made the announcement, so that co-workers would feel freer to raise any concerns they might have. In another situation, the transitioning employee wanted to be present with HR so the worker could personally express an openness to answering colleagues’ questions.
Once, an employee transitioning from female to male wanted to send out an e-mail with a lot of personal information about his experiences growing up with gender dysphoria and how he was on the brink of suicide in his early 20s. He believed strongly that sharing his personal story would help others understand his decision and be less judgmental.
HR helped the employee consider confidentiality requirements and the possible effects of sending the message. There was a lot of medical information in the proposed e-mail, as well as highly personal information, that co-workers might not have been comfortable hearing.
In one instance during a transition, a co-worker said she supported the employee but felt that too much information had been shared. Striking the right balance between sharing too much and too little is important.
Also consider how the transition will be communicated to customers. This can be tricky. Once, an Intel customer said he couldn’t work with a transitioning worker. Intel informed the customer about its values and ultimately dropped the customer. “That’s a choice we made,” Breslin said.
Keeping Track of Details
Then there are the more-administrative responsibilities that must be attended to from an HR perspective.
Name changes should be made in human resource information systems, e-mail systems, benefits information and archived documentation, such as performance reviews, as well as on company badges.
Work with the employee to identify a transition date, Breslin emphasized. The employee may choose to take time off for the transition, then return to work.
Sometimes the transition isn’t a linear change. Breslin recalled one worker who apparently went back and forth between male and female because, while the worker had made progress transitioning at work, the employee had not transitioned at home.
Each transition situation is different, Breslin said.
Responding to Employee Complaints
A significant challenge in the workplace involves how to handle transitioning employees’ use of restrooms. Intel takes the stance that employees may use the restroom of the gender they identify with.
But at least in one case, some workers urged HR to send out e-mail notifications regarding a transitioning employee’s use of a ladies’ room. HR refused because doing so would inform more people than needed to know about the transition.
Sometimes co-workers complain that they cannot work with a transitioning employee because it would conflict with their religious beliefs. These employees are informed that Intel:
“This is an expectation of all employees at Intel,” Breslin noted.
Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.
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