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Protecting Transgender Workers at Every Stage

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | Jun 22, 2020

An estimated 1.4 million adults identify as transgender in the U.S. For many of them, clocking in means risking mistreatment — 77% of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey said they'd taken action to avoid discrimination in the workplace, such as concealing or postponing their gender transition or even quitting their job.

As a union leader, you can ensure your entire membership has personal and professional security in the workplace by advocating comprehensive protection for transgender workers in contracts, whether it's during hiring, while on the job or after transition. Here's where to start.

Names and Pronouns

Misgendering is the act of referring to someone else in a way that doesn't reflect the gender they identify with. Workers have the right to be addressed by the name and pronoun they feel comfortable with from the first interview onward, and unions can work to specify that in contracts.

Some workers may prefer "he" or "she," while others might use the gender-neutral pronoun "they" or another pronoun entirely. Review contracts so that they're clear: Intentional or persistent refusal to respect a worker's name or pronoun preference from a manager or colleague is considered harassment and a violation of policy.


Review contracts for privacy protections as well so that members can choose to either talk about their gender identity openly or keep that information private without pressure from others. Workers should decide for themselves when they discuss their gender, exactly how much they share and who holds what information.

It can also be helpful to note in contracts that disclosing information about whether a worker is transgender can be considered a breach of confidential medical information under HIPAA privacy laws, as would disclosing the sex they were assigned at birth. Managers, HR and coworkers should not reveal this private information without the worker's explicit permission.

Health Care Needs

Union boards and employers should both understand the language used to describe the health care needs of trans people. That understanding will help clarify the process and policies surrounding a worker's transition.

Transitioning is when someone takes on the physical characteristics of the gender they identify with. Not every transgender person transitions, but for those who choose to, institute clear guidelines for supporting them through the transition and communicating the change to others. Successful guidelines might include having HR or the worker's supervisor meet with them to express their support and decide together when and how to tell coworkers.

To make transgender workers feel more at ease, contracts can also urge employers to pursue only health insurance contracts that have coverage for transition-related and transgender-related care.

Employee Records

After a worker has transitioned, they may want to alter their official employee record, email address or business cards to reflect a name or gender change. Spell out this right in workers' contracts, and ensure that the contract details what changes will be made, by whom and when.

For example, a contract might specify that name and pronoun changes will be made on the date the worker feels is most appropriate based on their transition plan, adding that any company photographs on file will also be updated in a timely manner.

Restroom Protections

The U.S. Transgender Survey found that more than 60% of transgender Americans have avoided using public bathrooms because they're afraid of confrontation. Workers should not have to worry about using the restroom at work. Every contract should factor in restroom accessibility.

Ensure that workers have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Contracts may say, for instance, that transgender women must be allowed to use the women's restroom, and transgender men to use the men's restroom. They can also include similar language about locker rooms, if applicable, as well as gender-neutral restrooms.

Unemployment is three times higher among the transgender community than the unemployment rate for the U.S. population as a whole, according to the U.S. Transgender Survey. Pursuing comprehensive protections for transgender workers in contracts gives workers a chance to feel more comfortable in the workplace. It's a promising step toward creating a more open, inclusive workforce.


With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.