Gender Labels in the Workplace

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) protects people from discrimination and harassment based on a variety of grounds, including but not limited to gender expression and gender identity, in employment and other social areas. This means employers must treat transgender and gender non-conforming people with equal dignity and respect at work. At the very least, this involves respecting the employee’s gender identity and using the appropriate gender labels in the workplace. Here’s what employers should know about accommodating transgender and gender non-conforming employees.

Gender Expression & Gender Identity Defined

Gender expression is a person’s public presentation of their gender. This may include their outward appearance, body language, and voice. Their chosen name, gender label, and pronoun of choice are also ways of expressing gender.

Gender identity is a person’s individual and internal experience of gender. This is different from sexual orientation and may be the same or different from the gender they were assigned at birth.

Employer Responsibilities

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression states that individuals have the right to define their gender identity. They must be treated according to the gender they live in, regardless of whether they’ve undergone surgery or updated their documents.

Organizations must accommodate trans and other employees up to the point of undue hardship. For employers, this means addressing a trans employee by the correct pronoun, using the right gender labels in the workplace, and providing access to changerooms and washrooms based on the person’s lived in gender. Dress code policies should also allow trans employees to dress according to their expressed gender.

In addition, information identifying a person’s gender or other personal information should be kept confidential, and employers should have a valid reason for requesting and using such information. Finally, an employer should implement a non-intrusive process for trans employees who want to change their name or gender label on their records.

An organization will be liable if discrimination or harassment occurs in the workplace. Accordingly, employers must take proactive steps by revising their rules, policies, and facilities to be more inclusive.

Do you need advice on how to create a respectful workplace or accommodate an employee at work? We help Ontario employers prevent discrimination and harassment based on all protected grounds under the Code, including gender identity and expression. Call 1 (833) 247-3652 to speak to an HR expert today.