The US Department of Labor recently published guidance for its employees on ensuring nondiscrimination in the workplace at the Department, which employs more than 17,000 people across the country. The document builds on guidance issued to all federal agencies by the Office of Personnel Management in 2011, and the Department’s addition at that time of language in its Equal Employment Opportunity policy clarifying that gender identity is a protected form of sex discrimination.
The new guidance provides further explanation of these protections and policies and how to ensure equal treatment in the workplace Managers and employees are instructed to use preferred names and pronouns and respect the privacy of transgender people. Managers are advised to support employees in making gender transitions, and the guidance specifically states: “Dress codes must not be used to prevent a transgender employee from living full-time in the role consistent with his or her gender identity.”
With regard to hiring, managers are advised that background checks may disclose a person’s prior name (and therefore their assigned gender). If this happens, managers are encouraged to tactfully ask the applicant about use of previous name and which name and gender should be used when checking job references.
The guidance also clarifies an issue that can affect all workers – taking medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Department here makes clear that FMLA leave may be used for transition-related medical care in the same manner as all other medical care.
These guidelines represent another modest but welcome step forward in the federal government. With the recent confirmation of Labor Secretary Tom Perez, we hope the Department will do more to ensure equal employment opportunities for transgender people – including promulgating similar guidelines for Job Corps sites and federally-funded One-Stop Career Centers.