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For Employers

Strategies for Managing Transition

When confronted with an employee who plans to transition from one sex to the other, employers have reacted in a wide variety of ways, some of which have worked better than others. Where transition has been smoothest, the following strategies have been used.

Talk with the transexual employee

Find out when the employee would like to start working in the new role, whether she or he anticipates any problems with transitioning, and whether she or he would like any temporary or permanent changes in duties or responsibilities. In some cases, the transsexual employee can be a source of useful information about transsexualism, how transition has been handled in other workplaces, and who to contact for further information and training.

Assemble a transition team

A team to oversee the transition process should include the transsexual person, his or her manager, and an HR professional, at the very least. It may also include a union representative, other managers, and an outside consultant. Confidentiality is extremely important at this stage because leakage of information about the impending transition before strategies are in place to deal with it can lead to an unmanageable situation.

Educate the team

The transition team should educate itself regarding transsexualism and transition issues. Unless one or more people on the team have dealt with transition in a similar situation, outside experts and/or resource materials are needed to provide this training. The transsexual worker can be a valuable source for reading material and contacts but should not be expected to educate the team.

Determine timing

The main factor in the timing of the transition is the transsexual employee's readiness to start working in her or his new role. Some transsexual workers prefer to coordinate their transition with a vacation period to give themselves and their coworkers time to adjust. Coworkers should be informed shortly before the transsexual employee is to change roles and should receive sensitivity training as soon as possible after they are informed.

Inform others

People who work in direct contact with the transsexual employee on a daily basis, and perhaps others who have more limited contact, should be informed about the transition shortly before it is to happen. People may be informed by a written memo, by email, in a meeting, or some combination of these ways. Whatever the medium, management should provide a clear message expressing confidence in and support for the transsexual employee and the expectation that he or she will be treated with respect.

Provide training

Some employees have concerns about working with a transsexual person. In the absence of reliable information, they will turn to myths and misinformation or simply make up "facts," setting the stage for intolerance and hostility. Training should be provided by outside consultants or HR professionals who are experts on transsexual issues. Be prepared to offer training earlier than planned if coworkers find out about the transsexual employee sooner than intended.

Model desired behavior

Most people in the workplace have had little or no experience interacting with a transsexual person. The most powerful influence in determining how they will act are the examples that are set for them by supervisors, managers, and executives. People in positions of authority should be coached to model respectful behavior.

Change documents

The transsexual employee is responsible for obtaining a legal name change, new social security card, and new driver's license. At the time of transition, all employee records must be changed to reflect her or his new name and sex. New photographs will have to be taken for identification badges. Discuss with the transsexual employee the best timing for changing her or his status on medical benefits plans.

Restroom use

The transsexual employee should begin using the restroom appropriate for his or her new gender role immediately upon transitioning. If coworker discomfort makes this arrangement difficult, training that focuses on this issue may be necessary. Counseling should be offered to those who continue to have a problem sharing their facilities with the transsexual worker. If locker rooms or showers are part of the workplace, plans will be needed for use of these facilities as well.

Assess client needs

If the transsexual employee deals with vendors, clients, customers, or the public, decide how these contacts will be handled. Depending on the situation, clients may be informed before transition takes place, or management can prepare a statement and wait for clients to inquire.

Be proactive

In addition to deciding how to handle the issues on this list, the transition team should anticipate other problems that might arise in your specific setting with the particular people involved. Each workplace is unique and can present its own set of challenges. The team should develop solutions to any anticipated problems, using outside consultants and resource materials when necessary.

Prevent hostility

Hostility can arise in a transsexual employee's coworkers when they don't understand transsexualism, when they think the transsexual person is being given preferential treatment, and when diversity is not appreciated in the work environment. The likelihood of hostile reactions can be reduced by establishing a culture of appreciation of differences, providing adequate training, and treating all employees fairly.

Monitor adjustment

Transsexual employees may not report harassment because they don't want to cause trouble or because they fear repercussions from their coworkers or supervisors. A management or HR representative should take the initiative in ongoing assessment of employee adjustment to transition.

Provide counseling

Counseling should be provided for employees who have ongoing difficulty working with a transsexual person. Employee assistance programs, counseling staff, or outside therapists can provide this service. Employees should be reminded of the availability of this resource.

Deal with complaints

Any complaints of harassment or discrimination should be investigated and dealt with promptly, whether they are directed against the transsexual worker or other employees. Procedures already in place to deal with other types of unacceptable behavior can be used.