OSHA Publishes Guidance Regarding Restroom Access for Transgender Employees

June 12, 2015

On June 1, 2015, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published A Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers.  OSHA stated that the “core principle” of the Guide is as follows:  “All employees, including transgender employees, should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.”  The Guide serves as an extension to OSHA’s longstanding rule that, as a matter of health and safety, all employees must be provided a sanitary toilet facility in order to avoid “the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them.” According to the Guide, there are approximately 700,000 adults in the United States who are transgender -- meaning that their internal gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.  OSHA explained that 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.”  This could potentially lead to an unsafe situation where transgender employees avoid using restrooms entirely while at work.  Therefore, the Guide’s “Model Practices” explain that an employee who identifies as a man should be permitted to use men’s restrooms, and an employee who identifies as a woman should be permitted to use women’s restrooms, and that the decision of which restroom to use should be made solely by the employee.  Notably, employees are not required to submit medical or legal documentation of their gender identity in order to have access to the restroom of their choosing. This Guide does not come as a surprise given the actions taken recently by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and United States Department of Labor in acknowledging the rights of transgender employees to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity. Unfortunately, OSHA did not provide much guidance for employers, stating simply that “employers need to find solutions that are safe and convenient and respect transgender employees.”  OSHA also did not provide any guidance indicating how employers should address situations where employees raise concerns about a transgender employee using their restroom. Nevertheless, employers must be conscious of and follow OSHA’s guidance, regardless of whether adherence makes other employees uncomfortable, or else they will potentially invite legal action, including the filing of OSHA complaints or EEOC charges.  Employers should also review their policies (if any) to ensure that they cannot be construed as prohibiting transgender employees from using the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity.