The Often Overlooked Protected Class: Transgender Employees

Transgender individuals are a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and, although, not specifically identified under federal law may be protected under Title VII's prohibition of "sex" discrimination. Thus, it is important for Iowa employers to be familiar with transgender issues and steps that can be taken to prevent discrimination. Transgender or gender identity disorder is not the same as homosexuality or sexual orientation. Transgender is when a person's gender identity doesn't match his or her genetic sex. Individuals may attend counseling and sex reassignment therapy, hormone replacement therapy and possibly gender reassignment surgery. These different treatments may result in an employee representing himself or herself as the gender corresponding to their identity, becoming more masculine or feminine and ultimately changing his or her gender completely. Employers must be careful to prevent discrimination based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. This duty applies to all employees, regardless of their status as transgender. Female employees may not be discriminated, harassed or retaliated against because they are not "feminine" enough. Similarly, male employees may not be discriminated, harassed or retaliated against for not being "masculine". Additionally, employers may be required to allow transgender individuals to "cross-dress", reference employees with appropriate pronouns, allow use of a restroom that corresponds with gender identity, or provide time off for medical appointments. While transgender employees may not be prevalent in your workplace, it is important that you understand their rights and your obligations before a problem arises.

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