The federal government's recent memo on transgender workers may help human resource leaders in the private sector protect the rights of their employees. Only about four in 10 companies in the Fortune 500 have gender-identity-inclusive policies.
The Office of Personnel Management isn't the first organization to issue guidelines pertaining to the employment of transgender employees and those in the midst of a transition. But with more than 2 million employees under its wings, it's unarguably the largest employer to do so -- and some believe it could spur other organizations to follow its lead.
On May 27, OPM issued a four-page memo to each of its chief human capital officers, reaffirming the federal government's commitment to protecting the rights of transgender workers and those in transition, and responding to some of the most commonly asked questions.
"The guidance itself does not require agencies to do anything," an OPM spokesperson says. "But as a general matter, agencies should continually review their employment policies to ensure that they afford a non-discriminatory working environment to employees, irrespective of any non-merit factors, including an employee's gender identity or perceived gender non-conformity."
In addition to clarifying the meaning of terminology such as gender identity and gender transition, the OPM memo outlines how managers, supervisors and co-workers should address issues such as privacy, dress and appearance, restroom access, recordkeeping and insurance benefits.
The memo also includes a primer on names and pronouns that are considered "appropriate to the employee's new gender."
It also asks managers, supervisors and co-workers to consult with OPM's human resource offices if there are questions pertaining to individual circumstances.
Advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights applauded the OPM guidelines.
"It's been part of EEO policies for over a year, but it's obviously important for OPM managers to know what kind of issues they're likely to face in the workplace and the protections that exist for transgender workers," says Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
Moulton says the guidelines aren't dramatically different from some of those found in the private sector, but its existence should nonetheless help to raise the issue's visibility.
HRC reports that 207 -- or 41 percent -- of the Fortune 500 presently have gender-identity-inclusive policies.
In addition, roughly 25 percent of the employers in HRC's Corporate Equity Index provide transition-related medical services and treatments.
Moulton cited Chevron, Ernst & Young and Boeing as examples of private employers with guidelines similar to OPM's.
Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund in New York, says the OPM guidelines can serve as an example for the private sector, especially those organizations that have yet to address the transgender issue in their policies and practices.
"While we do see some major corporations offering guidance for transition, there are still many that have work to do," Silverman says.
"It puts the U.S. federal government squarely on the map as an employer that favors equal opportunity for all Americans," he says. "We still see plenty of employers in the private sector that don't have non-discrimination policies in place for transgender workers."
Silverman reports that only 13 states currently have laws that protect workers against discrimination based on gender identity.
On June 4, the Connecticut legislature became the latest state to pass antidiscrimination legislation that would add "gender identity or expression" as a protected class. Gov. Dan Malloy is expected to sign the new law.