Does your workplace have gender-neutral washrooms? Does your workplace have a dress code that  accommodates all forms of gender expression? These are just two of the questions raised by the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (“OHRC”) Policy on Preventing Discrimination because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression (the “Policy”). In the first post, we introduced the Policy: Click Here. In last week’s post, we addressed how employers can prevent discrimination: Click Here.

Part 3: Gender Identity, Gender Expression and the Workplace – Challenges

Transgender employees can be exposed to discriminatory behaviour and attitudes in a number of different ways. Employers face the challenging task of protecting these employees while simultaneously educating the workforce to combat the underlying attitudes that give rise to discriminatory behaviour. For example, transgender employees are at risk in the following ways:

  • Trans people can struggle to obtain identity documents that accurately describe their gender which can pose administrative challenges for both the employee and the employer.
  • Both at and away from the workplace, transgender people can face stigmatization and isolation. This can lead to mental health issues.
  • Employers can also face the challenges that arise from confusion and misunderstanding about transgender people. One particularly “hot” issue is whether trans gender people can use washrooms that are appropriate to their gender after their transition. Some employees might not feel comfortable with this and employers have to balance these concerns with the rights of trans gender employees. Gender neutral washrooms can provide a solution in some situations but there will be situations where such workarounds are not possible.

In an interview with CTV, Ryan Dyck of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Egale Canada identified “…education, education, education” as critical to transgender people gaining greater acceptance within society. In the workplace, this is equally applicable. By following the Policy, employers in Ontario can signal to their employees what is acceptable behavior. They can also introduce measures such as gender neutral washrooms to avoid some of the challenges identified above. However, it is only through education about the differences between sex and gender that the confusion and prejudice that gives rise to fears such as those identified above can be combatted directly. In the workplace, the responsibility for this education lies with the employer.

Written with the assistance of Andrew Nicholl, articling student.

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