Over the weekend, the General Assembly passed House Bill 6599, which adds “gender identity or expression” as a new protected category under employment law.  Governor Malloy has indicated that he will sign the bill.  Assuming he signs the bill, here’s what you need to know as an employer in Connecticut.  (For more background, you can see my prior coverage here.)

When is the Bill Effective?

When signed by Governor Malloy, the bill will become effective October 1, 2011.

What Employers Are Covered?

General Assembly Winds Down

Employers with 3 or more employees are covered by the bill.

What Does the Bill Do?

It adds “gender identity and expression” as a protected class. So, just like an employer is prohibited from making employment decisions based on gender or race, an employer is now prohibited from using “gender identity and expression” to make decisions too.

What is “Gender Identity and Expression”?

According to the General Assembly, it means:

a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth, which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.

In popular terms, the term “transgender” is typically used.  You may also have heard the term “gender non-conforming individuals”.   For more information, you can view the Connecticut Transadvocacy Coalition website.

Are Any Employers Excluded?

Yes.  This new law doesn’t apply to any religious corporation or entity “with respect to the employment of individuals to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation” or “with respect to matters of discipline, faith, internal organization or ecclesiastical rule, custom or law which are established by such corporation”.  In other words, religious bodies can set their own rules regarding gender identity and expression.

What About the “Bathroom Issue”?

When transgendered people come out at work, one question that arises is what bathroom that individual can or should use.  This bill does not address that specifically and indeed, in suggesting that no discrimination should occur, it puts the onus on the employer to act in the employee’s best interest.  That said, for background on the issue, there are plenty of sites that discuss it and different approaches.  A recommended best practices approach is is that transgendered employees use the restroom for the gender they are presenting (unless a state law prevents an employee from doing so.)

What Steps Should Employers Take in Response to this New Bill?

  • Update any existing EEO policies and harassment policies to add “gender identity and expression”.
  • Educate staff (including managers and supervisors) of the change in the law and answer questions that anyone may have.
  • Conduct a general assessment of your company’s existing practices and ensure that it is in compliance with the terms of this new law.
  • Closer to the date of effectiveness, send out a notice to employees; there may be transgendered employees who haven’t “come out” yet.  Be proactive in creating a harassment-free environment.

If you have any questions, be sure to seek appropriate legal guidance on any other rules that might apply specifically to your type of company or situation.