Whilst some employers may feel this issue may never arise for them, it makes good business sense to foster an inclusive workplace and be proactive and prepared so that any transgender employee or job applicant feels valued and protected and the risk of claims is minimised. A good starting point for employers is guidance published by the Government Equalities Office on the recruitment and retention of transgender staff.
The guidance recognises that there is a need to remove barriers to the recruitment and retention of transgender staff, particularly as it is known that some transgender employees will leave their existing jobs before transitioning and may take lower paid jobs when returning to work, often due to concerns surrounding the treatment they will be subjected to if they remain in the workplace whilst transitioning. The guidance sets out practical advice and suggestions for employers on how to recruit and retain transgender staff.
In terms of overcoming barriers to recruitment, the guidance looks at a variety of factors, such as an employer's website and branding, and includes tips on the appropriate application process to be followed. With regard to the retention of transgender staff, in addition to flagging up the benefits of ensuring that the employer is equipped to support transgender staff (for example, minimising the risk of grievances and employment tribunal claims being raised), it also outlines effective practical steps to be taken by the employer.
As a key first step employers should consider introducing a transgender policy and also adapting any existing policies, if required, to accommodate and specifically make reference to transgender employees. The introduction of a transgender policy could also be coupled with a training session generally on diversity issues for employees and, most importantly, for managers.
The guidance also picks up on a number of important practical considerations including updating records and systems, dealing with moving timescales, the use of facilities and also dealing with any absences from the workplace as a result of an employee transitioning.
Other recommendations include making an action plan at the outset to support transitioning employees. A template action plan for employers to use as a starting point and tailor accordingly is appended to the guidance. As part of this process, consideration should be given to taking advice from HR and/or any equality/diversity team that may be in place, and to holding regular review meetings to ensure that the action plan is adapted as matters develop. Ideally, the action plan should be used as a dynamic tool to assist with the transition process.
A clear recommendation is that the process should be led as much as possible by the employee. This is especially the case when considering communication with colleagues. The best way to deal with this would be to agree with the transitioning employee in advance what communication with colleagues should take place, at what stage and by what means. This is with a view to ensuring that that a tone is set within the workplace of inclusion and respect and that transgender employees are fully supported.
For further information on the recruitment and retention of transgender staff, the guidance can be accessed here.