New clarity for transgender federal employees

Protections and policies affecting transgender federal employees now have added clarity due to recently released statements from the federal government’s human resource agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Earlier in this administration, the federal government clarified that “gender identity” cannot be a basis for discrimination for federal employment. Now, after efforts led by the National Center for Transgender Equality and work by the Task Force and the New Beginning Initiative, the three new statements from OPM released on May 27 help give meaning to these protections.

First, OPM released general guidance to reiterate that federal law protects transgender individuals employed by federal agencies. It provides guidelines for treating transgender employees with dignity and respect, including specific recommendations with regard to employees who are transitioning.

Second, OPM issued detailed instructions to federal employers for reconstructing employees’ personnel folders following a gender transition, so that privacy is maintained.

Finally, OPM’s Federal Employee Health Benefits Program issued a letter to all carriers to explain their obligations to enrollees who have transitioned. The carrier must recognize the enrollee’s preferred gender designation. It must also cover all medically necessary sex-specific care based on the enrollee’s individual medical needs, regardless of which sex is listed in the medical record. However, carriers are still not required to provide sex-reassignment surgical coverage to federal employees.

Although more work remains to ensure transgender equality in the federal workplace, these OPM actions represent a substantial advance in civil rights for transgender federal employees.