What Businesses in NYC Need to Know About Discrimination Against Transgender Workers

What Businesses in NYC Need to Know About Discrimination Against Transgender Workers
Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

Stay informed and join our daily newsletter now!
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
3 min read

Businesses in New York City, be warned: If you intentionally and repeatedly refer to a worker as a “he” when the person prefers “she,” you could be setting yourself up to face a discrimination lawsuit.

The NYC Commission on recently released updated guidelines to clarify what actions are considered discrimination on the part of business owners, particularly with regard to transgender and non-conforming employees in the workplace. Under the rules, employers are required to use the employee's chosen name, pronoun and title "regardless of the individual’s assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification."

Related: When Company Culture Becomes Discrimination

For transgender and gender non-conforming people, preferred pronouns can include he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs or ze/hir. If you are unsure what someone’s preferred pronoun is, it is within your right to ask. The NYC Commission on Human Rights notes that checking with an employee to make sure you have the correct name and pronoun is not a violation of the New York City Human Rights (NYCHRL).

An action that does constitute a violation of the law, however, is the withholding an employee benefit like health insurance because of someone’s gender or gender identity. In accordance with the NYCHRL, health plans that are offered must include coverage for "transition-related care or gender-affirming care." In that same vein, for something like medical leave, employers are required to “treat leave requests to address medical or health care needs related to an individual’s gender identity in the same manner as requests for all other medical conditions.”

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Spot Subtle Bias

Under the law, employers cannot prevent an individual from using a restroom, locker room or any customarily single-sex facility that aligns with their gender identity, regardless of that person’s sex at birth. For instance, a transgender woman cannot be barred from using the women’s restroom nor be forced to use a single-occupancy restroom. And when it comes to dress codes or uniform standards, instituting a rule that is based on sex stereotyping, like one that requires men to wear ties or women to wear high heels in the office, is prohibited. The NYC Commission on Human Rights recommends creating gender neutral requirements for professional attire.

Those who break the law can be landed with a civil penalty of up to $125,000, but the NYC Commission on Human Rights explains that violations of the NYCHRL "that are the result of willful, wanton, or malicious conduct" can be fined up to $250,000.

Related: It's Time to Close the Workplace Gender Gap

While sex has been a federally protected class for decades, in 2002 the New York City Council added the Transgender Bill of Rights to the NYCHRL to extend that protection to gender identity and gender expression. New York City is not the only city -- or state -- that has legislative protections in place for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The American Civil Liberties Union says 19 states including the District of Columbia, and at least 200 cities across the country have their own varying laws on the books.

More from Entrepreneur

We created the SYOB course to help you get started on your entrepreneurial journey. You can now sign up for just $99, plus receive a 7-day free trial. Just use promo code SYOB99 to claim your offer.
Jumpstart Your Business. Entrepreneur Insider is your all-access pass to the skills, experts, and network you need to get your business off the ground—or take it to the next level.
Discover a better way to hire freelancers. From business to marketing, sales, finance, design, technology, and more, we have the freelancers you need to tackle your most important work and projects, on-demand.

Latest on Entrepreneur