Transgender Employees & Bathrooms—What Should an Employer Do?

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog about the protection of transgender employees under Title VII. Since then, Caitlyn Jenner has graced the cover of Vanity Fair, the EEOC has further solidified its position on the matter, and OSHA has weighed in on the issue.

One matter that has come up in many of the transgender discrimination lawsuits that have been filed to date is the use of bathrooms. This is the situation in the most recent lawsuit by the EEOC. It alleges that a Minnesota company discriminated against a transgender employee by not letting her use the women’s restroom and subjecting her to a hostile work environment.

Likely in response to these issues, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued “A Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers.” OSHA requires, among other things, that employees are provided with sanitary and available restrooms. It is estimated that 700,000 adults in the United States are transgender, and OSHA stated that restricting employees to restrooms that do not conform with their gender identities or by requiring them to use a segregated gender-neutral or other specific restrooms singles transgender employees out and potentially makes them fear for their safety. Therefore, OSHA recommends that all employees should be permitted to use the facilities that correspond to their gender identity, and each employee should determine the most appropriate and safe option for him or herself. OSHA proposed two other optional solutions: 1) single occupancy, gender-neutral facilities for all employees; or 2) use of multiple-occupant, gender neutral restrooms with lockable single occupant stalls for all employees. Further, OSHA’s best practices recommend that employees should not be asked to provide any medical or legal documentation of their gender identity in order to have access to appropriate facilities.

Based on the EEOC’s current litigation trend and OSHA’s best practices recommendation, employers should permit all employees to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. For now, the stance of the federal government is that employees should have unrestricted access and use of restrooms according to their full-time gender identity. Employers will need to deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis to find solutions that are safe, convenient, and respectful.