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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Initial Employee Meeting

Yesterday, I blogged about a four-step mediation process to be initiated upon notice to the organization that an employee is going to transition. Today, I will discuss the first step: the intial employee meeting.

Step 1: The Gender Transition Leader will immediately schedule a meeting with the employee in transition to begin creation of a transition plan and provide information about the Company's guidelines, expectations and resources.

This is an initial meeting with the employee (without supervisory management) to discuss the transition plan. It is important that this meeting take place very soon after notice to ensure that the employee does not take precipitous action that may cause workplace disruption.

Some preparations should be made for this initial employee meeting, if possible, to be able to answer likely employee questions.

  • Get familiar with the company policies affecting the employee. The employee is about to go through some difficult times, and may have questions about what the company will be doing to support them. I am not suggesting you go through every single rule and scenario, as this is more of a listening session, but be prepared for some questions about confidentiality, communications with others, dress codes, facilities usage, harassment, ID issues, and benefits.
  • Identify and contact local company resources (without divulging confidential information) to determine who, if anyone, specifically has training or experience with gender transition. Directing the employee to someone who does not have the requisite knowledge will signal the organization's incompetence to support the employee. In-house organizations to contact include the EAP, local diversity council, employee affinity group, and HR professionals in other company locations who have been involved in gender transitions. Do not rely on websites written by non-professionals.
  • Do independent research on gender identity issues so that you are satisfied that you have some knowledege. It's not necessary to become an expert, but any statements in this meeting to the effect that you don't know anything about transgender identity signals the organization's incompetence to support the employee. There are several good books in print on the subject. Find one, check out the preface, skim the chapters and put it on your desk.
  • Get a sense of how many co-workers, customers, vendors and others are in frequent contact with the employee. Down the road, meetings will need to be scheduled with these people for a policy review session, in which the employee's transition is disclosed publicly and the company policy regarding gender transition is reviewed. Since 20-25 people is probably the natural limit for these meetings in order to give people a chance to share questions and concerns, this will give you an idea of what training resources you will need to get these meetings done. Note that these meetings will not be held until the transition plan is in place, and that the employee in transition will not attend this meeting in order to give attendees the opportunity to ask questions with less discomfiture. Getting a sense of who these people are is also useful to determine if there are concerns about potential overreaction by certain employees, vendors or customers.
  • Assess the considerations for facilities usage. This tends to be one of the major issues because restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms are some of the last gender segregated spaces in our society. The employee may bring up the issue, and may take hesitation to mean that their gender is being disrespected. This does not require a decision now, but simply an understanding of the points that the Company will be considering in making this determination.
  • Determine if the employee has a security classification. Employees with a security classification who plan to undergo gender transition have an obligation to notify industrial security, and it is good for the employee (and you) to be aware of this up front. Psychological counseling and taking steps to live in a different gender constitute Reportable Events. A gender transition, with no additional diagnosis code, will probably not result in disqualification, though I have heard of a case of revocation. However, failure to report Reportable Events will almost certainly result in revocation of security clearance.

Agenda of initial employee meeting:

The initial meeting should be restricted to a few essential topics. Otherwise, the crucial points may be lost.

  • Note the Company's commitment to supporting the employee through a nurturing work environment
  • Ask the employee about his or her gender transition plans -- listen carefully for the employee's ideas regarding timeline
  • Introduce the idea of a plan to manage workplace transition successfully, and discuss the Company's 4 step process
  • Briefly review the Company's Gender Transition Guidelines and give a copy to the employee so they can read it later and understand the Company's expectations and norms
  • Briefly review the Draft Transition Plan and give a copy to the employee. Request that they fill in the blanks and note other comments they may have, and send to you via confidential memo.
  • Note that this should not yet be discussed with others at the Company, and that you will shortly set up a meeting to talk privately to the employee's supervisor. Stress confidentiality at this point, because early disclosure will result in gossip that may be harmful to the process, and may require a coming-out time before you are ready to address the issues.
  • Ask about questions/concerns
  • Thank the employee for coming forward and reiterate the Company's support.

The key here, as I see it, is letting the employee know that the Company is going to support them in certain specific ways, and that there are certain expectations about what they are going to do. This will ensure that they don't have unrealistic ideas, such as assuming that it's okay to announce their plans to the workgroup in passing, wear opposite sex attire to the client meeting tomorrow, or discuss their genitals with co-workers. These things may seem obvious to you, but I have seen all of these occur.

The next step is the meeting with the employee's supervisor, which will be discussed in a later post.

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