Supporting Transgender People in the Workplace

Posted in : HR Updates on 13 May 2020
Shannon Lennon
Think People Consulting
Issues covered:

It may seem that the topic of transgender rights has only quite recently exploded onto the social scene, with individuals on both sides of the debate becoming increasingly outspoken on their views. From a business perspective, this can leave managers and business owners unsure of what is fair and practical.

Despite the fact that this argument may feel new, the law which protects transgender individuals’ rights actually dates back to 1976. In Northern Ireland, transgender people are protected from discrimination by the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976, amended by the Gender Reassignment (NI) Regulations 1999 and the Equality Act 2010.

However, most businesses do not rest when they meet their employee’s basic human rights according to the law. Going above and beyond to make every individual in your organisation feel valued, comfortable and accepted as part of the tribe, goes a long way to building a cohesive and productive workplace for everyone.

For transgender employees, this is particularly important as, according to LGBT equality charity Stonewell, half of transgender people have hidden or disguised the fact they are transgender in work because they were afraid of discrimination and transphobia.[1]

This article will look at what changes you may need to make to meet your transgender employees’ legal rights, and also what changes you may want to make to ensure your transgender employees are given the same amount of encouragement, motivation, acceptance and support to do their job to the best of their ability, as your cisgender workforce.


“Transgender” is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. This term includes those pre-, during or post-transition, intersex people, non-binary or gender neutral people, those who are gender fluid and many other iterations of human gender.

Conversely, cisgender is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does correspond to their birth at sex.

What Does The Law Say?

In the workplace, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their gender identity when recruiting, and in the course of employment – this includes practical issues such as dress codes and use of toilet facilities, as well as transphobic harassment or discrimination by work colleagues. If transgender employees are disciplined, dismissed or made redundant, or where they are pursuing a course of vocational training, they are also protected from discrimination.

A Newry branch of Debenhams hit the headlines earlier in the year when they settled a sex discrimination case for £9,000. The case centred on Ava Moore, a young transgender woman from Newry, who was invited to an interview by Debenhams and believed that she had performed well but was later notified by the popular department store that she had been unsuccessful. Soon afterwards, Ava received an anonymous email which alleged that she had been unsuccessful in her application because she is a transgender woman.

The Equality Commission stated: “The issue here is simple – a job should go to the person who does best at interview and in selection tests. That’s what equality of opportunity in practice means. The company confirmed that Ava performed well at interview and in interacting with customers –and she says she told them she was willing to work the hours required. The more open and inclusive the recruitment process, the more likely it is to avoid unlawful discrimination and increase the likelihood of getting the best and most qualified people for the job.”[2] 

Your Trans-Inclusionary Checklist:

  1. Review policies – Consider whether your current policies meet the requirements of your transgender staff, and whether you need to develop specific policies for your transgender staff. This should include both legal requirements such as protection against harassment and discrimination, and additional policies dependent on the business/working conditions/job role, such as time off for surgery.
  2. Support your employee – The best thing you can do for your transgender employees, is ask them what you can do. As discussed, transgender encompasses a wide range of genders, and an even wider range of individual experiences and requirements. Ask your employees: How best can you support them? This might involve communicating to the wider staff about the transition process that their colleague is going through, or making necessary changes to the gender noted in their employment records.
  3. Consider the practicalities of your office and ways of working – for example making changes to dress codes, toilet facilities, door signs, name badges, email addresses etc.
  4. Data Protection - How do your data protection policies apply to updating name and/or gender? Remember that it is an offence to disclose that someone is transgender without their permission.
  5. Get proactive on pronouns – Respect transgender employees by using their preferred pronouns, and encourage all staff to do the same. Them/their can always be used if you are unsure of a person’s gender.
  6. Ensure your recruitment process is open and inclusive to all candidates - How can recruitment policies be developed in order to be trans-inclusive? Have you included information in your job description encouraging transgender individuals to apply, and describing the aspects of support available to them in your organisation?
  7. Allegations of harassment, bullying and discrimination on the grounds of gender identity need to be taken seriously and grievance/ disciplinary policies should be followed. What does the policy on harassment, bullying and discrimination look like at present? Does it include transphobic behaviour and language? How visible is it for staff, and is it communicated with customers/clients?
  8. Ensure to speak to transgender employees about their career progression and training opportunities. The idea of moving to a new department, managing others or attending off-site training can be particularly daunting to transgender individuals who receive a particularly high rate of prejudice and discrimination in their everyday lives. Inform your transgender employees of what support is available to them to make situations like these easier.

If you do not currently employ any transgender individuals, you should still look at implementing this checklist sooner rather than later. A number of the points raised above relate to recruitment, and it will be too late to start thinking about inclusion once you have already received an application. Trans-inclusion should be a value which is built into your workplace and circulates not only through your workforce, but through your customers, suppliers and all other stakeholders.

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Identity Workshop

Think People Consulting are holding a workshop on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Identity in Belfast on Wednesday 10th June 2020.

This workshop will cover how to comfortably deal with the sensitive issues of both sexual harassment and sexual identity within the workplace in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and a greater societal awareness of the LGBTQI+ community.

The workshop will be co-delivered by Tughans Solicitors Belfast and Think People Consulting, and will cover both the law with regards to sexual harassment and identity, and also best practice beyond the law for supporting your whole workforce regarding this topic.

To view more information and reserve your space, visit:

Have Questions?

If you have any questions relating to sexual identity in the workplace, contact our specialist HR consultants on or +4428 9031 0450.

[1] Chaka L. Bachmann and Becca Gooch (2018) LGBT in Britain: Trans Report, London, Stonewell

[2] Equality Commission (2020) Transgender woman settles case against Debenhams,  <>


This article is correct at 13/05/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Shannon Lennon
Think People Consulting

The main content of this article was provided by Shannon Lennon. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email

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