Transgender Law Deadline Approaching

….as New Jersey Businesses Watch and Wait

(PRLEAP.COM) On June 12, 2007, New Jersey Bill S362 will take effect, adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of classes protected from discrimination. Employers whose actions discriminate against transgender employees may face lawsuits. Difficult compliance issues face human resources officials, including questions like which bathroom to use, how to address co-worker and customer concerns, how to change official records, and insurance coverage of transgender health care.

While this is a relatively new issue, this is not the first law on the subject. Eight states have statutes protecting transgender employees, eleven more states are considering such statutes, and another 15 have court opinions or executive orders on the subject. Almost one hundred U.S. cities have such laws. In addition, 11 of the 37 Fortune 500 companies in NJ already have policies against gender identity discrimination. Many employers have successfully adapted to transgender employees in the workplace. “With proper planning, a gender transition can be a success for both the transgender employee and the organization,” says Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss, Assistant Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College, who is presenting a workshop on “transgender workplace diversity” for human resource, diversity and legal professionals at Ramapo College of New Jersey on June 27.

“Burying your head in the sand is not a success strategy because transgender employees are estimated at 1 in 1000 in the corporate workforce, and they will increasingly seek accommodation as changing laws and social mores give them the right to live openly.” Dr. Weiss, who holds J.D. and Ph.D. degrees, is the author of a popular blog on the subject. Her “Transgender Workplace Diversity” blog is receiving about 4000 hits per month, with hits from many of the Fortune 500 and major law firms seeking to access information on the subject.

Dr. Weiss has conducted research involving hundreds of companies and public agencies that have adopted “gender identity” policies, as well as consulting with Fortune 500 companies and major public organizations regarding training, policy development and communications strategies on this issue. “Experience shows that the key to success in this area is addressing the foreseeable issues that may otherwise cause disruption in the workplace without planning,” she advises. She notes that waiting until a transgender employee comes forward constitutes a failure to plan. “When an employee comes forward to say ‘I am transitioning next week,’ there is no time to weigh options carefully at that point. It’s already an emergency.”