Understand how to best navigate your identity, disclosure, and the workplace.
You’ve landed the job! This is definitely a moment to celebrate your achievements and prepare for a new chapter in your career journey. While there are questions we all have when starting a job — what is my team like? Will I enjoy the work? — you might have additional questions about navigating your gender identity and expression in a new workplace. In this section, we review Ontario laws that protect trans and nonbinary employees from discrimination and harassment. We also outline some common situations and a few ways to address any potential breaches of your workplace rights.
What the law says about employment
Legal forms of protection on the basis of gender identity and gender expression have progressed in recent years. Many employers have taken steps to develop policies and implement additional measures to create inclusive workplaces. Still, trans and nonbinary employees may find themselves in workplaces that do not always reflect legal forms of protection.
Did you know? The 2020 Corporate Equity Index reported that 98% of rated employers provided employment protections based on gender identity – both in the U.S. and globally – and 91% of Fortune 500 companies in the CEI provided gender identity protections.
It’s important to be familiar with the laws that protect your employment rights so you can make informed decisions about your workplace experience. Knowing these rights can help you speak more confidently when addressing concerns with colleagues and managers. The terms of your employment contract and relevant policies at your organization may further clarify your rights. These documents can provide resources and outline processes your employer will take to resolve challenging situations.
Laws that protect employment rights in Ontario include the Employment Standards Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code). In addition, the Ontario Human Rights Commission — a government agency engaged in the promotion of human rights — has developed a policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression (the Policy). As an applicant or employee, knowing more about these protections and policies can help you advocate for a change or need in the application process or workplace, and provide support if you find yourself facing discrimination or harassment.
Understanding the Code and the Policy
Under the Code, people in Ontario are protected from direct and indirect forms of discrimination and harassment on the basis of 18 different grounds — including gender identity and gender expression — in the following areas:
- Goods, services and facilities
- Membership in a trade union, trade or occupational association, self-governing profession
- Accommodation (housing)
The Code places the responsibility on employers to build gender-inclusive work environments. As a result, employers have developed policies and practices for creating trans-inclusive workplaces in Canada. The following is a list of some practices you might expect from a trans-inclusive organization.
A trans-inclusive organization will:
- Support your health and safety at work and foster an inclusive culture that promotes the well-being of all employees.
- Create an environment that supports respectful communication and strives to be free of harassment and discrimination.
- Address matters of harassment and discrimination quickly and effectively with a clear complaint resolution process.
- Facilitate training and raise awareness of gender diversity and inclusion.
- Support the everyday use of your name and gender identity, regardless of your legal documents.
- Update and/or maintain communication records (such as organizational charts, email addresses) that align with your correct name and gender identity. (Remember, legal name and gender information will be kept confidential in personnel records).
- Place you at the centre of determining your accommodation request and/or transition plan with your manager (if you are transitioning in the workplace), as well as deciding how and when this information is shared.
- Ensure you have appropriate access to washrooms, changerooms, or other facilities.
What to do if you experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace
We all want our work experiences to be positive and supportive. Our hope is that you’ll work at an organization that is committed to inclusivity and creates a welcoming environment, with a manager or supervisor who is understanding of your identity and needs on the job. At times, however, this might not be the case. You may encounter difficult relationships with certain colleagues or even with your supervisor, or experience other negative treatment in the workplace. In these instances, here are a few steps you can consider:
- Documentation: Keep detailed notes of harassing or discriminatory experiences, including times and dates of your experiences, what happened, and who was involved, including who was a witness. Save any documents such as emails that demonstrate what happened. Documentation is helpful if you want to make a complaint about your concerns.
- Organizational policies: Check your employer’s policies to see if any of them cover your situation and provide a route to address it. For example, if you think a decision has been made based on the fact that you’re trans or nonbinary, their policy may provide a way to appeal the decision. If you have been harassed, the policy may also outline how to file a complaint.
- Report up: To the extent possible, discuss any concerns you have with your supervisor.
- Explore organizational resources: If discussion with your supervisor isn’t an option, or if it doesn’t fix the situation, there may be different resources you can contact in the organization (e.g. human resources, human rights or equity offices).
- Contact your union: If you’re a member of a trade union or employee association you can contact them to discuss your options.
- Request an investigation: If there’s a complaint or investigation process available through your employer, you may wish to use it. As investigations can take some time, ask human resources about supports available during the investigation, and/or use your support systems outside your employer.
- Explore alternative solutions: There might be other processes available at your place of employment such as mediation, facilitation, workforce restoration, to help you and your colleagues address issues and develop a more positive work environment.
- External resources: If you aren’t able to find resources within your organization, you may find other resources on the Human Rights Commission website and can contact the Commission.
Your rights in the workplace
To help you understand how the previous steps apply to your rights and responsibilities in the workplace, we’ve outlined a few key protections that might be relevant, and provided suggestions for navigating challenging situations.
Connecting with colleagues
Social relationships at work are an important part of your success on the job and can inform your engagement at work, career advancement, and wellbeing. It’s important to make an effort to build relationships and network with your colleagues. These questions can help you consider how to build these relationships:
- What do you need to feel comfortable at work?
- What would you want your colleagues to know about your gender identity?
- How have you built relationships in the past? What might be an effective relationship building strategy in the workplace?
- How can your colleagues help you when you start thinking about the next step in your career?
Find your allies in the workplace and build a circle of support to help reduce isolation and stress. One way to do this is finding colleagues you trust. Get started by joining a social group or eating lunch with colleagues. Alternatively, seek out vocal allies and diversity champions or consider joining an LGBTQ2+ group at your work if there is one.
Sharing your identity
Choosing what to share about your gender identity at work can sometimes feel personal and confusing. Many people have legitimate concerns about revealing aspects of their identity, particularly if this could impact their job and career opportunities (e.g. name, age, disability, cultural attire). Decisions about whether or not to disclose your gender identity, gender expression or to transition in the workplace are also personal decisions that can have benefits or drawbacks for your experience in the workplace. Depending on who you are, how you identify, and how you express your gender, disclosure may or may not be a factor for you.
Dressing for work
Workplaces vary in the degree to which employees are expected to comply with particular norms concerning dress and uniform. Employers are not legally allowed to have transgender-exclusive dress codes, but it is customary for employers to establish reasonable employee dress codes and grooming guidelines for work-related activities.