Dilemma of the Month: How to Best Handle Gender-Neutral Pronouns by Evil HR Lady

I have an employee who would like to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns — a singular “they” instead of “he” or “she,” for example — but not all of my managers are following the request. The employee has come to me to point this out. Some coworkers also aren’t accommodating the request, making this employee feel excluded. What is our obligation to this employee, and do we face possible legal repercussions?

Only one court (to my knowledge) has dealt with a specific pronoun case. Still, California has strong protections in place for LGBT employees, and the Supreme Court is currently deliberating on a group of cases that will (perhaps) determine if gender identity is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Regardless of how that turns out, California courts are likely going to side with protections, just as a federal court in Ohio did in February when it dismissed a lawsuit by a Christian professor who challenged Shawnee State University’s requirement that he use preferred pronouns of transgender students.

All this means is that it can be legally problematic if your employee feels discriminated against because coworkers use “he” or “she” rather than “they.” You could certainly argue that if people at the office refuse to use someone’s preferred pronouns, they are discriminating against that person. 

But how do you deal with this? It will require a little understanding from everyone.

Politeness Is Important

If I tell you my name is Suzanne, and you insist on calling me Sue, you’re rude. It’s not important whether you think Sue is more appropriate or you hate the name Suzanne, or it has too many syllables, or you’re morally opposed to using the letter Z in a name, it’s not appropriate to create your own nickname for me.

Likewise, if someone says, “Please use ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ when referring to me,” you should use “they.” Using “he” or “she” is rude (and could be evidence of illegal discrimination). In spite of anyone’s beliefs about whether or not the singular “they” is appropriate, if someone asks you to use it, use it about that person. 

The workplace is not where we should fight our political or cultural battles. We are polite to our coworkers, and this is the polite thing to do.

Read the full article @ Comstock’s Magazine
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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