Transgender Employees: Privacy Matters

March 24, 2017 Jerod Zakson

Jay Potter of Rhode Island just completed his final gender reassignment surgery. He had a team of 26 doctors who operated on him for 17 consecutive hours. The surgery required 46 different medical codes and cost $300,000. But that wasn’t the greatest expense: Jay spent seven years researching policies and providers, filing discrimination claims and appeals, and suffering the mental and emotional anguish each time a claim or appeal was denied. He’s on short-term disability as he recovers and, when he returns to work, no one will know he had surgery. And no one will care. Or at least, that’s what he hopes.

“This is a new landscape…that employers are oftentimes ill-equipped to face.” Margaret Botney, Senior Consultant, Engagement, Conduent Human Resource Services

According to a 2016 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 77% of respondents who had a job in the past year “took steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace, such as hiding or delaying their gender transition or quitting their job.” [1] Coming out is a complicated, individualized and deeply private experience. For transgender people, there are added complications that make privacy an enormous challenge in the workplace. The workplace is an unusual environment in that we see our colleagues every day, and even socialize with some of them; however, it’s also a place of business where we keep a level of professional detachment, often separating our private lives from our work lives. A transgender person does not need to have medical intervention to transition—that is a personal choice. But whether they choose medical assistance or not, transition will involve making noticeable changes in appearance. This can often result in unwanted attention or, even worse, inappropriate questions.

At some point, HR will be tasked with making changes to personnel files, updating the employee’s desk or cubicle name plate and informing the local manager on various “dos and don’ts.” But even before then, lies the charge of walking the slippery slope of knowing/not knowing and ensuring that the employee transitions in peace. How? It begins with education.

Having a non-discrimination policy that includes gender identity is only the first step for many employers. Implementing these policies by creating a safe environment for trans employees is vital. This is a new landscape for many, with new terminology and a vast array of considerations that employers are oftentimes ill-equipped to face.

Jay Potter is your colleague, your employee, your direct report, your manager. He may be beginning his transition or returning from his final surgery. No matter what his situation, no matter what you know or don’t know, Jay’s responsibilities do not include answering your questions or educating you. For Jay, it’s just another day at work. And that’s what it should be for you, too.

For more information on transgender-related topics and the Conduent Transgender Center of Excellence, please contact Margaret Botney at 201.902.2384.


[1] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

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