Employers are encouraged to be respectful to all workers on an equal basis. This includes respecting a person’s gender identity, which can differ from a person’s sex as it was assigned at birth. While there are no federal laws in place banning gender identity discrimination, employers should still be mindful of respecting the right to free expression in the workplace.
Examples of gender identity discrimination
There are many ways employers can discriminate against workers based on their gender identity. Some examples include:
- Not allowing a worker to use the appropriate restroom
- Firing a worker upon learning they are gender-nonconforming outside of work
- Demoting or reassigning an employee for presenting as a certain gender
- Terminating an employee for undergoing sexual reassignment surgery
Teasing, jokes, & comments
Improper jokes or comments about a person’s gender identity are not necessarily restricted by the law. However, repeated jokes or comments that have a serious impact on the workplace could fall into the category of harassment. If this situation creates a hostile work environment or could reasonably lead to a person being fired or demoted, it is likely to be considered harassment. And while not explicitly illegal, off-color jokes aimed at any group should be discouraged at work.
Gender identity & dress codes
Gender identity is often expressed in the clothing a person wears. After a transition, it may be necessary for a worker to begin wearing clothing traditionally associated with the opposite gender. While employers are allowed to impose gender-specific dress codes, they must also be respectful of transitioning workers. Some states have already imposed laws to this effect, while employers often include such laws in their internal practices. Even if no such laws exist, it is possible for workers who feel their rights have been violated to file suit against their employer.