Blog

Monday, May 11, 2015

Progress for Federal Workers—and One Persistent Inequality

Recently, the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) improved its 2011 guidance supporting transgender workers. Similar to recently updated guidance from the Department of Labor for its workers, this government-wide guidance makes some needed improvements, although additional improvements are needed. 

The updated guidance:

  • Makes clear that, consistent with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling last month, employees always have the right to use restrooms based on their gender identity.
  • Encourages agencies to convert single-user restrooms to be gender-neutral options for all workers.
  • Encourages federal agencies to “evaluate, and consider eliminating, gender-specific dress and appearance rules” altogether, while still making clear that employees should always be permitted to dress consistently with their gender identity at work. 
  • Specifies that in cases where job duties or specific positions are gender-specific, workers should be eligible on the basis of the gender they live and work as. 
  • Makes clear that medical leave taken for transition-related health care should be treated the same as any other medical leave. 
  • Encourages managers to consider transgender workers’ privacy during the hiring process, for example when checking references.

NCTE advocated for and welcomes these changes, especially because more and more government and private sector organizations are looking to OPM guidance as a model.

Despite the new improvements, the OPM guidance still needs work. Further improvements should include making clear that these rights apply to workers with non-binary gender identities other than male or female, as well as to trans men and women; as well as making more explicit that employees should be able to update things like their email address and business cards to reflect their chosen name even if they haven’t obtained a legal name change.

In addition to improving this workplace guidance, OPM still needs to fix one glaring form of discrimination facing federal workers: most federal employee health plans are still permitted by OPM to have broad exclusions targeting transgender workers or dependents. While the Justice Department now embraces the view that anti-transgender job discrimination is illegal, this form of discrimination persists even within the federal government. To secure President Obama’s legacy of strengthening the basic rights of LGBT people, this form of government-sponsored inequality must be fixed.

We encourage federal employees—and all workers—who have faced any form of discrimination to consult our Know Your Rights resources and seek legal help.

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