“We are not striving for perfection” Cynthia Ingram, Employment Lawyer at Piccolo-Heath LLP, stated during her Accommodation and Support for Transgender Employees seminar at Verity. Ingram’s presentation covered some of the struggles, double standards and presumptions the LGBTTQ2SAA community faces in the workplace. On average, individuals spend 10 hours each day at work or in the workplace and to assume sexual orientation, and the expression of gender identity is not part of one’s employment experience might be rather naïve.
In 2016, the Williams Institute at UCLA concluded that 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender. In conversation with Ingram, we got a chance to ask questions that might be on your mind.
Verity: For the LGBTTQ2SAA community, what can transition mean?
Ingram: Transition can take any number of forms, from simply “I am choosing to express myself” to a full physical transition and transformation. It is the manner in which an individual chooses to express and/or identify themselves whether in dress, the removal or growth of facial hair, or undergoing full or partial transition surgery. It is entirely the choice of the individual.
Verity: We hear a lot of debate about the use of Pronouns, how important are they?
Ingram: Pronouns are the key to expressing gender identity. In fact, a recent study in the U.S indicates that there are over 50 pronouns to describe the transgender community. The important thing to note is that personal identity makes people who they are and the goal is to identify everyone as they are on the inside, as the outside may not be so obvious.
Verity: How important is it for those transitioning to let their HR department know?
Ingram: It is a personal choice for someone who is transgender or is undergoing a gender transition to let their HR department know. There is no obligation on the employee to notify the employer that the employee is transgender, or undertaking any form of transitions, and HR representatives should avoid asking questions. HR is only required to accommodate on the basis of requests of transgender employees, or issues HR knows, or ought to know, in the workplace. It is when the employee is seeking to identify as a particular gender, or use a particular pronoun, that they should reach out and work with their HR department.
Verity: How is HR supposed to accommodate everyone else?
Ingram: Accommodation of transgender employees in the workplace will most certainly impact other employees and co-workers. And not all employees will necessarily be welcoming or understanding of the changes. The key for HR is to communicate with the employee’s coworkers and educate them not only about their co-worker’s needs and accommodation but also about their own duties under the Ontario Human Rights Code. For example, employees who are anti-gay or anti-gender, whether associated with cultural norms, religious beliefs or otherwise, must understand their obligations to leave their judgment or prejudices at the door prior to entering the work environment.
Verity: How do you balance two different groups in the workplace? It definitely raises a state of conflict amongst those who are religious or set to different values and societal norms.
Ingram: Communication and education is the key. HR can’t tell someone what or how to believe. However, what HR should do is ensure employees understand their duties and obligations to respect one another in the workplace, regardless of their differences. Ensuring there is a clear policy in effect with updated training materials and education for employees about what it means to abide by obligations is also important. Again, nobody can be perfect. HR does not need to investigate every resource that may be available to assist employees, but it is required to ensure a safe and healthy work environment and accommodate for gender identity and expression.