The transgender-rights bill signed last Friday by Governor Charlie Baker may be a landmark piece of social legislation, but it is expected to have a modest effect on Massachusetts employers who have operated since 2012 under a law barring discrimination based upon gender identity.
Massachusetts joins a growing list of states across the country in adopting some form of legal protections for transgender people. More than 100 advocates joined Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor J. Walsh, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the State House steps this morning to mark passage of the legislation.
The issue for many employers was addressed four years ago with the adoption of the gender identity amendment to the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. The law states that if an employee faces discrimination due to gender identity, or is not accommodated in transition, the employee may have a legal claim against the employer.
The principal focus of new law is access for transgender people to places of public accommodation -meaning places that offer products or services to members of the public. Massachusetts courts have generally defined “public accommodation” broadly so businesses that invite the public in will be covered under the law.
Examples of public accommodation include stores, restaurants, malls and theaters. A company that invites the public for tours or free samples may also be covered. So if transgender sales representative were to visit a facility and was turned away due to gender identity or denied access to use the restroom, the action could violate the law.
Employers need to review current policies and practices to ensure compliance. That may involve informing and training supervisors and other managers about the existence of the law, its impact in the workplace and where they can go with questions.
Parts of the law take effect immediately, other sections take effect this autumn.As of September 1, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Attorney General’s office will adopt regulations in support of the implementation of the law, including when and how gender identity, may be shown.