International Laws Protecting Transgender Workers

Information on transgender protections specific to each country's laws and court cases is sparse. While some countries provide legal protections for transgender people, businesses can and should extend protections for transgender employees to their global operations. As in the United States, international transgender issues are rapidly evolving.

In the European Union, a 1996 decision of the European Court of Justice in P v S and Cornwall County Council provided protections from employment discrimination related to "gender reassignment." The United Kingdom formalized this EU decision when it passed the 1999 Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations. This law provides protections for transgender people "intend[ing] to undergo, ... undergoing or hav[ing] undergone gender reassignment," and applies to any stage of employment. The European Court of Human Rights has continued to uphold and require protections for transgender people, and both the U.K. and Spain also have laws that allow transgender people to change their name and gender on official documents without needing to undergo surgery.

Two U.K. studies — one conducted before the ECJ decision and one after the adoption of the 1999 U.K. non-discrimination law — demonstrate that while discrimination against transgender employees has decreased, it continues to occur frequently. Before the ECJ decision, 37 percent of people who had transitioned and subsequently changed jobs claimed that they were forced to leave. After the enactment of the 1999 U.K. non-discrimination law, this decreased to 16 percent. However, only half of people surveyed were allowed to use the appropriate bathroom while in transition.

Outside of Europe, South Africa and many states and territories of Australia also prohibit discrimination against transgender people. Businesses that operate in these countries are prohibited, and could be held liable for, discrimination against or harassment of transgender employees.

Yogyakarta Principles

A group of distinguished experts in international law developed the groundbreaking "Yogyakarta Principles" on sexual orientation and gender identity in March 2007, shortly after the 2006 meeting of the UN Human Rights Council at which 54 nations called attention to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the need to take action to prevent further incidents of abuse, repression and discrimination. The Principles call for action from the United Nations, individual governments and others to ensure the universal reach of human rights protections. Moreover, they call on businesses to "acknowledge and act upon the important role they have in both ensuring respect for these Principles with regard to their own workforces and in promoting these Principles nationally and internationally."