Even before Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner, transgender issues have been wide open and hotly debated, particularly in California and now in the business community around the country.
The big question facing businesses in California is how to best handle an employee who is transitioning on the job, often after years of service to the company? Most importantly, what is legal under California employment law?
“The average business owner has no idea how to handle a transitioning employee,” says Carolyn Weiss, a 32-year veteran employee of the City of Los Angeles who transitioned seven years ago at the age of 55.
To help businesses, large and small, legally abide by the rules and regulations in California, Weiss launched her own company, Transgender Business Services, in Los Angeles.
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“There is a big and growing market for these services,” she says. “Outside of transgender-owned businesses, which are rare, business people are becoming aware that anybody in their employ could be transgender and are just waiting for the right time to come out. Employers just don’t know who could be transgender – it could be anyone.”
California law makes it illegal to discriminate against transgender employees in this protected group. The California law, enacted in 2004, forbids an employer from denying employment to someone on the basis of being transgender; it also prevents an employer from firing, harassing or inappropriately disciplining an employee for being transgender. California law also forbids discrimination in public accommodations.
“Retailers need to be aware as well,” Weiss says. “If a transgender customer or client is handled inappropriately, a business could get sued by the individual or the State and suffer significant damages, monetarily and publically. All businesses need to aware of the laws.”
Weiss offers a multiple layer of services for businesses through her company, including:
- Trans 101 training for managers and employees, helping both learn and understand the existing laws and regulations;
- Writing non-discrimination company policies that comply with the law;
- Helping a company’s human resources staff develop a transition plan for employees who are transitioning;
- One-on-one counseling to help guide both managers and affected employees through the transition process;
- Training for medical office personnel on trans-friendly office practices.
Weiss’s background is impeccable when it comes to this topic: For seven years, she has counseled transgender people online and is Vice President and Assistant Forum Director of a transgender suicide prevention and support site. She also served on the West Hollywood Transgender Advisory Board for three years and has given talks to non-profits, chambers of commerces and medical students. During her career with the City of Los Angeles, she spent five years as Assistant Executive Director of the L.A. Police Commission and 11 years as Deputy Director of the Economic Development Division of the Community Development Department, where she managed L.A.’s State Enterprise Zone Program.