Transgender discrimination

Harassment and discrimination of transgender people: an introduction

Transgender people are those whose gender identity or expression doesn’t conform to the sex they were assigned at birth. The relevant legislation uses the term transsexual.

Some transgender people decide to live permanently in the opposite gender to their birth gender (gender reassignment or transition). This may involve medical and surgical procedures which can take months or years to complete.

People are protected against harassment or discrimination in the workplace because of their gender reassignment under the Equality Act 2010 and the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, amended by the Gender Reassignment (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1999.

Employers must offer the same opportunities to every employee and treat everyone in the workplace fairly and with respect, regardless of whether they are transgender or not.

What is discrimination or harassment of transgender people?

Unlawful discrimination against a worker because of gender reassignment includes less favourable treatment, such as not offering the worker employment, less favourable terms and conditions, fewer opportunities for promotion and training or dismissal.

A person harasses another if they engage in unwanted conduct related to gender reassignment, which has the purpose or effect of violating the other person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

It also extends to situations where a person is treated less favourably because they have rejected or submitted to the conduct. You may be being harassed on grounds of gender reassignment, if you are:

  • humiliated;
  • subjected to unwanted comments;
  • ignored;
  • excluded.

A lot of people put up with less favourable treatment or harassment, hoping that it will stop. But it usually won’t stop until someone takes action.

Complaints can be made under the Equality Act or the Northern Ireland order. If you are forced to resign, you may be able to make a constructive unfair dismissal claim. However, wherever possible, you should seek advice before you resign.

Read more about unfair dismissal

If you are being harassed or discriminated against

If you think you are being harassed or otherwise discriminated against because you are transgender, or because someone thinks you are, you must take action. Begin by keeping a record of incidents.

Deal with discrimination and bullying by:

  • talking to your UNISON representative;
  • talking to the person who is discriminating against you or ask someone else to talk to them;
  • raising an informal grievance using your employer’s grievance procedure;
  • raising a formal grievance – the complaint could be taken to an employment tribunal, but you should be aware that short time limits exist (generally three months less one day from the act complained of or in Northern Ireland three months exactly) when bringing claims to the employment tribunal, and following your employer’s grievance procedure does not extend time limits. Find out more about employment tribunals.

Transgender people and legal protection

The Equality Act and Northern Ireland order protects workers from being discriminated against because of gender reassignment.

They protect people who are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment, people who are considering undergoing gender reassignment and people who are incorrectly perceived to be transgender.

It is not necessary for people to have any medical diagnosis or treatment to gain this protection: it is a personal process of moving away from one’s birth gender to the preferred gender.

The public sector equality duty part of the legislation requires public-sector organisations to actively eliminate discrimination and promote equality and good relations in the workplace.

Find out more about public sector equality duties.

Next steps for UNISON representatives

If your employer doesn’t have a policy in place to counter discrimination and harassment against employees because of gender reassignment, and to promote equality for transgender people, negotiate with them to put one in place.

If a member is being harassed or otherwise discriminated against because of gender reassignment, be prepared to advise them on the next steps they should take.

Refer to the guides below and if you are unsure, speak to your regional organiser or branch secretary for advice. Tell them where they can go for support: UNISON has a self-organised group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.

The member may also ask you to speak to the person discriminating against them. You may need to advise them on raising a grievance and attend grievance meetings together.

If a member seeks information, advice or representation, use the UNISON case form, which you can find via the all articles section of this topic.

Key facts
  • Transgender people may experience harassment and discriminationfrom managers and co-workers.
  • You can complain under the Equality Act or the Northern Ireland regulations, which protect against discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
  • If you think you are being harassed or discriminated against, talk to your UNISON rep.


Transgender discrimination

  • A co-worker makes me feel uncomfortable with things he says about transgender people: what should I do?

    It is considered harassment if your manager or co-workers create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive atmosphere for you or otherwise violate your dignity.

    You are protected from such harassment and other forms of discrimination under the Equality Act and the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976, as amended by the 1999 regulations.

    You should speak to your UNISON rep immediately if you experience harassment.

  • I am being bullied at work because of my gender reassignment and the situation is unbearable. I want to resign. Can I claim unfair dismissal?

    If you feel you have to resign because of your treatment and want to file a claim for unfair dismissal, you would need to show that your employer has committed a breach of contract which is so serious that it effectively released you from the terms of your contract of employment and led to you feeling forced to leave.

    A serious and deliberate act of discrimination would normally constitute a sufficiently serious breach of contract.

  • I have complained to my manager about being discriminated against at work and now the situation has got worse. Is there anything else I can do?

    It is against the law to victimise an employee (ie subject them to “a detriment”) because they have complained about gender reassignment discrimination.

    You should speak to your UNISON rep to get advice on your next steps