Employment Law specialist, Paul McAleavey looks at gender reassignment, a topic that is no longer taboo and firmly in the public eye with the number of trans people in the UK estimated to be between 200,000 to 500,000.
‘Trans’ is a catch-all term for an individual whose gender is different from the gender they are assigned at birth. Individuals who question their gender can suffer from gender dysphoria, a recognised medical condition that can cause significant discomfort and
distress. The number of referrals to adult gender reassignment services is reported to have increased by 240% in the last five years.
Employers such as Netflix, Mercer and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are reported to have extended their employee health insurance scheme to pay for staff to undergo gender transition, which is not normally covered under employer-sponsored
healthcare plans. As employers look to become more competitive and attractive to employees by offering ‘best in class’ benefits, we may see an increasing number of employer healthcare schemes offering treatment for gender dysphoria.
Studies have shown that individuals suffering from gender dysphoria report increased productivity, well-being and career progression once their dysphoria is treated.
Such moves by employers are not without risk, however.
As with every action an employer takes, they must not discriminate contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Individuals who are proposing to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a part of a process for reassigning their sex are protected from discrimination.
Difficult questions will arise for employers. If an employer commonly excludes IVF or gamete storage for employees under their corporate health plan, should they do the same for trans employees? If there is a general ban on cosmetic surgery under the healthcare plan (save for recovery from breast cancer), will that ban extend to trans employees?
Employers should tread carefully when deciding what healthcare benefits to offer and which to exclude - and should take advice to avoid inadvertently committing any form of discrimination.
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