Trans workers’ rights are human rights: Building trans inclusive workplaces

On Trans Day of Remembrance, we remember lives lost to hateful violence or neglect. We also remember the role that we have to play in supporting trans folks in their pursuit of justice and liberation. Unfortunately, the workplace continues to be a site of violence and discrimination for many trans workers and non-binary workers- and workplace discrimination continues to play a role in trans poverty.

According to a 2015 survey of trans people in Ontario:

  • 28% of trans Ontarians knew or believed they had been fired because they were trans
  • 50% reported knowing or believing that they were not hired for a job because they were trans
  • 17% rejected jobs offers because they learned the working environment was not transpositive, and therefore unsafe
  • 28% could not get references with their current name/without referees deadnaming them
  • 58% could not get academic transcripts with their current name or gender
  • Trans Ontarians report a median income of just $15,000 per year, despite a high rate of post-secondary education*

*Statistics are less readily available for non-binary workers in Ontario, but anecdata indicates similar experiences.

These statistics reflect very poorly on Ontario employers. While protections for trans workers were only codified in Ontario in 2012, when “gender identity” was added as a ground of discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Code, it has been illegal to discriminate against trans folks at work for considerably longer. Before gender identity was added to the Human Rights Code, Human Rights Tribunal Vice Chairs treated discrimination against trans people as illegal sex or gender discrimination. Adding gender identity made this protection more explicit – putting employers on notice- and acknowledged the unique experience of gender identity discrimination.

Nevertheless, discrimination continues both in the form of outright refusal to hire or workplace harassment and in subtler but no more acceptable ways, like in the refusal to use some one’s correct pronouns.

Public discourse continues to be profoundly transphobic, in a way that undoubtedly empowers anti-trans discrimination in the workplace and in our communities. The constant discussion around gender neutral bathrooms or simply permitting people to choose for themselves which washroom may be appropriate is one of many examples of how public comment harms trans people, who experience violence and health harms as a result of the denial of the basic dignity of public (or workplace) washroom access without fear.

What can you do to support trans workers?

Employers, unions and workers have a role to play in making Ontario workplaces safer for trans workers and non-binary workers. Steps to become more trans inclusive and more inclusive of gender diversity are often easy and inexpensive. Steps can include:

  • Education about gender identity
  • Recruiting and hiring trans and non-binary workers and clearly communicating your non-discrimination policies in job postings
  • Implementing and sharing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination against trans workers and non-binary workers
  • Providing gender inclusive washrooms and don’t police washroom use
  • Implementing dress codes and uniforms which are not gendered
  • Asking rather than assuming a workers’ pronouns
  • Providing references that reflect a former employee’s current name and pronouns
  • Speaking out against transphobic comments in the workplace
  • Bargaining for dedicated transition leave and medical coverage for transition related medical expenses
  • Most importantly: Asking workers what support they need to feel safe in your workplace, including how they would like you to respond if they experience workplace discrimination or harassment and how they may want to be supported in their transition at work


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