The Changing World of Federal Human Resources

OPM director John Berry says agencies are asking the agency for guidance on how to deal with the issue of transgendered employees in the workplace. The result is a new set of guidelines, including restructuring the Official Personnel Folder.

From reading the large number of comments on this website regarding the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), processing of retirement applications in a timely manner is obviously of concern to many federal employees and retirees.

But, while retirement income that may be the most important issue on the minds of many, that isn’t necessarily the case for everyone in OPM.

No doubt, the experience and concerns of transgendered people is a very important issue for those who are directly impacted. There are occasional cases that pop up involving federal agencies and transgendered employees or job applicants and the issue will also be important to interest groups in the national elections next year.

OPM director John Berry stated in a memo to human resources officials last week that “Over the last several years a number of agencies have requested that OPM provide them with information and advice concerning issues that may arise in connection with the employment of transgender individuals in the workplace.”

So, for a variety of reasons, OPM has now issued “Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace.”

Core Concepts

For those who are lacking information, OPM has identified the “core concepts” on this topic.

We can also presume that the new guidance is OPM’s way of telling agencies what the agency takes the issue seriously and is telling organizations and employees what it thinks is the politically correct way to handle the subject when it comes up in the workplace. (Also see, Gender, Change and the Federal Hiring Process and From David, To Diane, To Federal Court)

Gender identity:  An individual’s internal sense of being a male or female. The way an individual expresses his or her gender identity is frequently called “gender expression,” and may or may not conform to social stereotypes associated with a particular gender.

Transgender: Transgender individuals are people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.  OPM says that the “guidance discussed in this memorandum applies whether or not a particular individual self-identifies as transgender.”

Transition: Some individuals will find it necessary to transition from living and working as one gender to another. These individuals often seek some form of medical treatment. Managers and supervisors should be aware that not all transgender individuals will follow the same pattern, but they all are entitled to the same consideration as they undertake the transition steps deemed appropriate for them, and should all be treated with dignity and respect.

Gender Transition While Employed

OPM relies on an organization called The World Professional Association of Transgender Health (formerly known as the (Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association) for explaining gender transition.

First, the individual will meet with a mental health provider to ascertain transition steps are most appropriate. Second, the individual may begin a course of hormone therapy, usually under the supervision of both her mental health provider and an endocrinologist. Third, after a period of time on hormone therapy, an individual will be ready to commence the “real life experience,” which is when an individual transitions to living full-time as a new male or female person.

It is at this point that an employer is most often made aware that an employee is undertaking a gender transition.

Questions from Employees and Managers During the Transition

There are several issues that commonly generate questions from managers and employees who are working with an employee who is changing sexual identity.  Here is what the agency says to do when facing this issue in your agency.

“Do’s and Dont’s” In Dealing with a Transgendered Employee

First, treat the situation with the sensitivity and confidentiality as other significant life experiences, such as hospitalization or marital difficulties.

Second, don’t gossip. “[P]ersonal information about the employee should be considered confidential and should not be released without the employee’s prior agreement. Questions regarding the employee should be referred to the employee himself or herself. If it would be helpful and appropriate, employing agencies may have a trainer or presenter meet with employees to answer general questions regarding gender identity.”

Third, recognize that the person will start dressing to match the “target gender” and the agency should not use dress codes “to prevent a transgender employee from living full-time in the role consistent with his or her gender identity.”

Fourth, recognize the person’s new identity and use the correct pronouns in addressing the person for the new gender as “Continued intentional misuse of the employee’s new name and pronouns, and reference to the employee’s former gender by managers, supervisors, or coworkers may undermine the employee’s therapeutic treatment….”

Fifth, allow the employee to use the bathroom facilities and locker room facilities consistent with the person’s new gender. “While a reasonable temporary compromise may be appropriate in some circumstances, transitioning employees should not be required to have undergone or to provide proof of any particular medical procedure (including gender reassignment surgery) in order to have access to facilities designated for use by a particular gender.”

Sixth, the person’s official agency records should be changed to recognize the new gender of the individual “once the employee has begun working full-time in the gender role consistent with the employee’s gender identity.”

And, finally, if the person who is changing to a new gender is married, that person’s insurance coverage will not change “and spousal coverage should be extended or continued even though the employee in transition has a new name and gender.”

The OPM director tells agencies that, if they still have questions, to call the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, at (202) 606-0020.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47