Gender Neutral Restrooms Can Create a Plethora of Investigation Triggers for Employers
Change and growth both come with growing pains. As the world fights for the equal rights of all, those growing pains can find people facing legal issues that have never been faced in the past. One of the newer issues that employers face in our new and changing world, is in gender neutrality, more specifically, the issue of gender neutral bathrooms.
Why There is an Issue
The Supreme Court has made several rulings to ensure the fundamental rights of those in the LGBT+ community. These rulings attempt to eliminate discrimination of individuals in this community. The fact that individuals who are transgender live their lives as members of one gender, while physically having the anatomy of the opposite gender creates a problem for some employees who do not fully understand the concept of gender identity.
Public restrooms have long been considered a place where personal safety is best provided by single-sex facilities. In some states, ordinances prevent the use of a labeled restroom by the opposite gender. In Texas, a bill was put forth in 2015 to make the use of a restroom or shower facility designated for the opposite gender a Class A misdemeanor. An unfounded fear of danger lurking in such fluid bathrooms is often cited as a reason to prevent public, gender-neutral bathrooms. This remains a significant cause of concern for some regardless of proof otherwise.
Transgender individuals feel that not being allowed to use the facilities that are made for their identity leaves them open to ridicule and bullying. While physical violence is not likely to be an issue in the workplace, name-calling, snarky comments, and other types of verbal bullying are. Verbal attacks can be just as harmful as physical ones and are generally a form of illegal workplace harassment and discrimination.
As the company head, you may be facing problems on both sides of the issue. Smaller businesses may find changing to gender-neutral restrooms easier physically. Many have one-person restrooms and instead of labeling them male or female, it is easy to change the sign to indicate gender neutral restrooms. If you don't, you may give LGBT+ employees the impression that you are not supportive.
As a larger company, it is more likely that changing to gender neutral restrooms will require more thought and possibly reconstruction and reconfiguring of restroom layouts. You may face employees who demand the right to use the restroom they feel comfortable using and employees who are fearful of the change. Bullying may increase in your workplace, causing even greater issues.
Even in places where gender neutral restrooms are not specifically required, both the EEOC and OSHA states an employer must make sure transgender individuals are not discriminated against. This includes being able to use the restroom that feels most natural.
There is a precedent for legal action. A trans-woman in Pheonix won a discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Deluxe Financial Services, Inc. The lawsuit alleged the plaintiff was harassed by her supervisor after she informed them she planned to transition. The lawsuit notes the employer blocked the employee from using the restroom she felt most comfortable using, among other discriminatory behaviors.
What You Can Do
As an employer, it is your responsibility to see that employees have a work environment where everyone feels safe and respected. It is also your responsibility to comply with any laws set forth by the government. Sometimes these two can clash, but they don't have to become a problem.
- Meet with employees. Explain what you have done to ensure everyone's safety.
- Educate employees on the differences between sex and gender. When people get a better understanding of the difference, they may be able to understand the concept of transgender better. Understanding often leads to acceptance.
- Set forth anti-bullying policies and make it clear there bullying will not be tolerated at your company.
- Call in a mediator that can help all employees express their concerns in a safe environment.
Gender neutral restrooms don't have to be a problem. As the person in charge, your lead will go a long way in determining how well employees will adjust to any change and concentrate their efforts on the important aspects of making your business function.