“Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity … singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety.” (Illustration: Ida Jarosova/Yahoo; source: Getty Images)
It’s a critical moment for people who are transgender. Their issues have been top of mind since Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world last week in a highly publicized Vanity Fair story.
But it’s easy to overlook an everyday point of stress for many transgender folks — which bathroom to use.
Now, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is aiming to fix that. The agency has issued guidelines stating that private businesses should allow employees to use the designated restroom for the gender with which they identify.
“The core belief underlying these policies is that all employees should be permitted to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity,” David Michaels, PhD, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, said in a statement.
The OSHA guidance reads:
Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person’s identity and everyday life. Accordingly, authorities on gender issues counsel that it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity. Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety. Bathroom restrictions can result in employees avoiding using restrooms entirely while at work, which can lead to potentially serious physical injury or illness.
Earlier this spring, a Planet Fitness gym found itself embroiled in controversy when a member complained — and then began to harass — a transgender person using the women’s locker room.
“Transgender people can face harassment and discrimination while engaging in simple daily activities such as going to the gym or using the restroom, and yet only 17 states offer explicit protection in public accommodations,” Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, told Yahoo Health at the time. “They have lower employment rates than the general population and heightened rates of poverty.”
Transgender folks can also face “heightened discrimination” in the workplace “if there are not clear policies in place” by their employer regarding sex-segregated facilities at work, such as restrooms, Gill added.
While the OSHA guidelines serve as suggestions for best practices, rather than rules, the act of issuing them was a critical first step in rectifying this form of everyday discrimination that transgender Americans can face in the workforce.
Read this next: What People Get Wrong About Being Transgender