California residents are no doubt aware that public bathroom access for transgender individuals has become a divisive topic in recent months. Laws introduced in Mississippi and North Carolina that forbid transgender individuals from using the bathroom appropriate to the gender they identify with have been widely criticized by the LBGT community, and the resulting furor has left employers around the country unsure about how to address this issue in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission became aware of these concerns, and the federal agency has released a fact sheet designed to clear up any confusion.
The fact sheet makes it clear that restricting the bathroom access of transgender individuals in the workplace is sexual harassment and violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Employers are also not permitted to restrict these rights to only workers who can prove that they have undergone surgery or some other form of medical procedure. Some employers may wish to avoid these issues by making a single-user bathroom available to transgender workers, but the EEOC says that doing so would also be a violation unless the bathroom in question is available for all employees to use on a voluntary basis.
The EEOC also reminds employers that Title VII protects workers against sexual harassment when the acts in question are based on gender stereotypes or are designed to protect workers of a particular gender or ease their discomfort or anxiety. The agency notes that these protections are in place to address workplace conduct rather than beliefs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Personnel Management have also issued guidelines dealing with the treatment of transgender workers.
While California and federal law protects employees from certain types of employment discrimination, workers who are victims of such behavior are sometimes reluctant to assert their rights under these laws. Experienced employment law attorneys could explain the severe penalties that employers can face for taking retaliatory action against employees who file discrimination or harassment claims.