Feds Issue Transgender Employee Guidance

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has just issued “guidance” about federal employees who are transgender that could and should serve as model policies and procedures for private employers.  This guidance is a major step forward for transgender individuals and SOFFAs (Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies).

Four documents were issued in late May, 2011.

The “Guidance…” document includes “concepts” (terms) and a short description of what’s involved in a gender transition.  It heavily emphasizes confidentiality and privacy, and then lays out guidance about dress and appearance (apply the standards of the person’s “target” gender); names and pronouns (use the new ones); “sanitary and related facilities” (generally, “agencies should allow access to restrooms and [if provided to other employees] locker room facilities consistent with his or her gender identity”); recordkeeping (change personnel file); and insurance benefits.  Critically, the last topic says, “If the employees in transition are validly married at the time of the transition, the transition does not affect the validity of that marriage, and spousal coverage should be extended or continued even though the employee in transition has a new name and gender.”

The letter to insurance companies is short and sweet.  It tells them to accept a new gender designation if requested, and issue a new ID card.  It also says, “Enrollees should also be provided appropriate benefits in accordance with their individual medical status.  For example, an individual who undergoes reassignment from female to male, but who still needs routine mammograms and pap smears, should be provided benefits for those services.  The same rule applies to the medical needs and benefits of male-to-female transitioners.”

The relevant pages in the “Guide to Personnel Recordkeeping” are 5 to 12 in Chapter 4.  I actually felt a thrill when I read the subheading:  “How to Reconstruct a Personnel Folder due to a Change in Gender Identity.”  We have come a long way when the federal government issues the kind of guidance that we’ve previously only seen come out of transgender advocacy organizations!  One of the critical parts of this guidance is that it contains this note after describing how a federal employee must document their name and gender change:  “No additional medical information may be sought from the employee, and surgery is not required for the employee to have his or her records corrected to reflect the new name and gender.”  This document also has a spousal protection clause (actually, it contains the statement twice):  “Continuation of Benefits.  The spouse of the employee at the time of the employee’s change in gender identity retains coverage as the employee’s spouse, as do the employee’s children.”  In a final note that will be appreciated by many, the former personnel file “should be double-wrapped along with introduction letter” and sent to the National Personnel Records Center using a mailing label that includes, “(DO NOT OPEN IN MAILROOM).”

Thank yous to the Obama Administration are in order!

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