Transgender rights are unquestionably one of the most cutting-edge areas of human rights in the United States and New Jersey. Thankfully, the Garden State has proven itself to be an inclusive and accepting place to work by intentionally extending protection to workers based not only on their gender assigned at birth, but on their own gender identity as well. New Jersey protects workers from discrimination regardless of their sexuality or their gender expression.
In other words, employers cannot discriminate against workers whose genetic gender differs from their internalized or expressed gender. In situations involving both hiring and ongoing employment, employees who identify as transgender, gender-fluid or non-binary have protections under the law.
Employers should not consider those protected aspects when making employment decisions. They should also help ensure a safe and functional work environment for workers of all backgrounds and identities.
Companies should adopt a zero tolerance policy
Suicide remains a leading cause of death among transgender people. Recent studies show that over 40 percent of transgender teenagers attempt suicide at least once. Part of the reason that the subset of the population has such a high rate of suicide and attempted suicide is no doubt related to the social isolation and stigma they experience.
Navigating interpersonal relationships while transgender is difficult enough. No one, regardless of their gender or gender expression, should have to explain themselves to their co-workers or deal with mistreatment or harassment in the workplace. Even seemingly minor harassment could add to an already unbearable load carried by transgender employees, putting them at increased risk of poor mental health.
Employers should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of bullying or gender-related harassment in the workplace. Doing so protects workers and contributes to a healthier work environment. It also protects the company from claims of discrimination in the future.
Employee education is important as well
Simply having a policy against harassment or discrimination based on gender does not prevent issues in the workplace. Companies should couple zero tolerance policies regarding harassment with educational programs for workers. Learning more about the life of transgender people or the issues they face can inspire compassion and reduce the inclination to socially isolate or abuse someone different.
Even companies that do not currently have any obviously transgender, non-binary or gender-nonconforming employees might want to consider making the investment into sensitivity training on the topic. Having all existing staff trained and including that training in the new hire process is a good idea.
That way, companies will not have to scramble to educate workers after a future hiring decision that involves a transgender employee, effectively outing that individual. Instead, the company can simply trust that every new staff worker understands the company policy regarding gender identity and harassment, just like they do racial and sexual harassment issues.