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In the nationwide effort to make the country's workplaces more welcoming, diverse and accepting, new legislation has come down issuing protections to women, ethnic minorities and same-sex partners alike. Another group of marginalized employees are also enjoying legal and professional protection: transgender individuals.

As equal protections expand to include people of all races, gender expressions and backgrounds, employers will need to stay up to date with the latest legislation to not only remain in compliance, but to maximize the potential of a more diverse pool of employees.

Positive changes, though law is slow to catch on
The good news is that there has been positive change in regard to inclusivity in the workplace for transgender individuals for some time now, though there has been little in the way of official legislation to mark the transition. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, new legislation has just been proposed that would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to expand the health coverage benefits offered to transgender employees. The proposed rule, called the Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities rule, was proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September 2015, more than five years after Obamacare was enacted into law.

What are the changes?
In terms of strictly legislative changes, the new rule essentially expands the definitions under existing nondiscrimination clauses to include gender identity and presentation. But this covers more than just access to health care. As the SHRM noted, the rule also includes the following provisos:

  • Individuals must be treated consistent with their gender identity, including in access to facilities. 
  • Sex-specific health care cannot be denied or limited just because the person seeking such services identifies as belonging to another gender. For example, a provider may not deny an individual treatment for ovarian cancer, based on the individual's identification as a transgender man, where the treatment is medically indicated. 

Workplace responsibilities
While this legislation is significant, it largely covers insurance-related concerns. In reality, transgender employees often need support across several axes at work, and it's the job of the company to foster workplace environments that are welcoming to all employees. Forbes cited a recent report indicating that 53 percent of transgender employees didn't feel like they were able to be open about their gender identity in the office. 

This creates a simple but important starting place to being planning your HR solutions surrounding this increasingly important topic.