Supporting trans colleagues

It is certainly the case that, until relatively recently, trans people have been ‘hidden away’, with many masking their true gender identity for fear of recrimination.

There are now a number of high profile trans role models, such as British Army captain Hannah Graf and actress Laverne Cox. And, thankfully, there is more information, visibility and understanding – especially through events such as Pride, and via charities such as Stonewall who do fantastic work.

However, there is still much more to be done, in order to protect the rights of trans colleagues and ensure they are not discriminated against. One only needs to review the comments sections in newspapers – or look on social media – to see that it is still, sadly, a subject of much intolerance and ignorance.   

The Equality Act 2010 prevents discrimination against all protected characteristics, and this includes transsexuals.

A transsexual person is someone who:

  • Wants to change their gender, whether they go through with the medical treatment or not
  • Has had a gender reassignment
  • Is undergoing medical treatment to reassign their gender
  • Has started the medical process but has decided to stop it
  • Has decided to adopt the identity of their chosen gender without undergoing a medical gender reassignment
  • Wants to dress as their chosen gender, all the time or only occasionally.

It is also important to point out that gender reassignment is a personal process rather than a medical one.  A person doesn’t have to undergo medical treatment, and they don’t have to be under medical supervision, to have the protection against discrimination afforded to them by the Equality Act.

It is important for employers to understand where they stand legally, in order to fully support trans colleagues. There is also a critical element of ensuring they enforce a welcoming and supported, trans-friendly atmosphere across their organisations. This can help foster good employee relations generally of course – as embracing diversity, can only be a positive thing.

Trans employees who undergo transition during employment will need additional support. They are taking a significant, courageous step in their lives – one which is deeply personal to them – and having a solid, trusted network is imperative.

Therefore, the importance of making all staff feel comfortable in their workplace surroundings should not be overlooked by managers.

Due a lack of understanding, many employers may feel unsure as to how to speak openly to their trans colleague – or be worried about saying ‘the wrong thing’ – and may avoid the subject altogether. However, this approach can often be detrimental for the organisation and the relationship between the manager and their employee, and severely impact upon any effective support of diversity and inclusivity.

Providing an open door policy

Workers should feel they are part of a collaborative, understanding atmosphere that breeds a culture of trust and support. When trans colleagues confide to their peers with personal information, it is vitally important to not be intrusive and treat anyone differently – positive communication plays a key role.

Managers should ask their employee how they want to be supported – and what ‘good support’ looks like to them. Respecting a trans person’s preferred name and pronouns are imperative too.

Nobody wants to feel intimidated when they go to work, therefore providing a welcoming environment – with an open-door policy for colleagues to raise any questions or concerns – should be enforced across an entire organisation.

Understanding the severity of the consequences

Harassment should never be tolerated – especially within a workplace. Therefore, managers need to ask themselves if enough is being done to ensure discrimination never occurs?

Inappropriate and offensive remarks should be addressed immediately, and colleagues must feel able to report an issue, and feel supported, throughout the subsequent process if matters are taken further.

Additionally, it is vital that all employees understand the serious consequences of their actions and words they use, because harassment can lead to a disciplinary or severe legal action.

It is important for organisations to have robust policies in place, and to communicate that to all staff, so that everyone respects and understands the rules and legislation they must abide by.

In conclusion

It is not just about the legal implications, although this is hugely significant. Providing a trans-friendly environment that is well-educated, has the right policies in place and which enforces a respected, comfortable atmosphere is critical. Protecting employees is of paramount importance, and everyone must feel like any other individual, in order to perform to their best ability at work.

Acas has published an excellent paper on supporting trans people in the workplace. Read it in full HERE.


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Author: Arwen Makin

Senior Solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

After studying law at Cambridge University, Arwen trained at leading national law firm Mills & Reeve, qualifying into their employment team in 2002. Arwen has extensive employment law experience, having advised both employers and employees on a wide range of employment issues. Prior to joining ESP she previously worked for a number of years providing advice and representation to both trade unions and their members, and has a particular expertise in the education sector. Due to her diverse experience she is ideally placed to give advice in relation to professional conduct and regulatory matters.