OPM details how agencies can create a gender-inclusive workplace

The Office of Personnel Management uses International Transgender Day of Visibility as an opportunity to update agency guidance to manage gender identity inclus...

Agencies have new directions for managing their policies and practices around gender identity inclusion in the federal workplace.

The Office of Personnel Management updated its guidance for agencies to build federal workplaces that better include and incorporate the Biden administration’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility priorities.

OPM’s latest guidance on gender identity broadened its initial 2015 guidance, now including details for how agencies should manage workplace transition, confidentiality and privacy, dress and appearance standards, names and pronouns, facilities and legal name changes.

“The new guidance reflects several major changes in law and executive policy that have occurred since this guidance was first written in 2015 and updated in 2017, expands the guidance beyond workplace transition and ensures the guidance language is inclusive of all gender identities,” OPM said in a press statement Friday.

The guidance from OPM came on Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual occasion on March 31 celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination that transgender individuals often face.

The updated guidance from OPM also aligned with President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce, which in part emphasized the importance of advancing equity for LGBTQ+ federal employees.

“Each federal employee should be able to openly express their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and have these identities affirmed and respected without fear of discrimination, retribution or disadvantage,” the executive order stated.

The order called on agencies to take actions to ensure federal employees have their respective gender identities accurately reflected and identified in the workplace. For example, Biden directed agencies to include non-binary gender marker and pronoun options in federal hiring, employment and benefits enrollment forms.

To try to push forward the Biden administration’s goals, OPM said agencies should, for one, develop and make workplace trainings on gender identity and inclusion more readily available to employees, managers and senior leaders.

Agencies, and all employees, should also ensure they are addressing individuals by the names and pronouns they use to describe themselves, OPM said, without the requirement of a legal change to their name or gender marker — this includes in everyday interactions, as well as in emails, virtual meetings, employee directories and other areas where an employee’s name or gender may be on display.

“The isolated and inadvertent use of an incorrect name or pronoun will generally not constitute unlawful harassment, but, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained, continued intentional use of an incorrect name or pronoun — or both — could, in certain circumstances, contribute to an unlawful hostile work environment,” OPM said.

To the extent it’s possible, employees should have control over how much they choose to share about their gender identity, OPM said. Some instances, such as during background security investigations, may require occasional exceptions.

The updated guidance also covers how agencies should manage situations where an employee is transitioning from one gender to another. OPM said agencies should avoid releasing personal information about the employee, unless that employee has given written consent.

It’s important that agencies to treat employees’ transitions with “as much sensitivity and confidentiality as any other employee’s private or highly personal life experiences,” OPM said.

“If it would be helpful and appropriate, employing agencies may have a trainer or presenter meet with employees to answer general questions regarding gender identity,” OPM continued. “Issues that may arise should be discussed confidentially as soon as possible between the employee and the employee’s manager and supervisor.”

For agencies that have specific duties necessarily differentiated by gender, transitioning employees should be able to work in a way that aligns with their gender identity, once they are open in the workplace about their gender, OPM said. And agencies should not require employees to provide medical proof of transition to be eligible for these types of work assignments.

The guidance also covers how managers should handle gender identity inclusion during the hiring process, emphasizes making common and single-user restrooms available, and details the use of sick and medical leave and insurance benefits for employees in transition.

“Agencies should also explore opportunities to expand the availability of all-gender restrooms and facilities in federally owned and leased workplaces in coordination with the landholding agency with jurisdiction over the facility,” OPM said.

The OPM guidance also builds on other inclusion initiatives from the White House, which have included calling on agencies to improve collection of LGBTQ+ data and efforts to make federal services more inclusive to transgender people.

OPM has pointed to gaps in its own data reporting on gender identity, which may create barriers to understanding the demographic make-up of the federal workforce, as well as advancing some of the priorities under Biden’s sweeping DEIA executive order.

“One example of a future reporting change is providing more options in gender categories in efforts to be inclusive of people of all gender identities,” OPM said in its first-ever annual DEIA report. “OPM is researching ways to report more data on the underserved communities … to identify gaps and community needs to develop better strategies to reach these communities.”

Officials at OPM said they hope the updated guidance will, in part, help address DEIA in recruitment and retention for federal agencies.

“As an employer, the federal government must strive to maintain standards of equity and value the diversity of employees’ backgrounds, identities and experiences,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a statement. “This updated guidance is aimed at achieving this goal and ensuring that federal workplaces are safe, respectful and productive work environments.”

“This updated guidance helps to foster an inclusive workplace, where federal agencies can recruit and retain top talent that effectively delivers for the American people,” Governmentwide Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood said. “As the nation’s largest employer, these gender inclusion practices will help us on our journey to become a model employer.”

OPM encouraged agencies, with the new guidance in hand, to create or update their internal policies for gender identity inclusion. Agency managers, supervisors and employees should work with human resources offices if they have questions about individual situations, while OPM can provide guidance more broadly.


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