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COMMENT | Lawyer Chris Cook urges UK government to change Equalities Act 2010 to be trans-inclusive

One in three UK employers were less likely to hire a transperson in a study last month

By Steve Brown

A lawyer has urged the UK government to change the language of the Equalities Act 2010 to make it more trans-inclusive.

Last month, a new study by Crossland Employment Solicitors found that one in three UK employers would be less likely to hire a transgender person and nearly half (43 per cent) said they were unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker.

The Equality Act 2010 protects transsexuals which the law defines as ‘transgender people who propose to, are undergoing or have undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.) against discrimination’. 

However, this gives the impression that only those going through a medical process are protected but as the guidance to the Equality Act makes clear, ‘to be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, you do not need to have undergone any specific treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender. This is because changing your physiological or other gender attributes is a personal process rather than a medical one’.

Now, according to Chris Cook, partner and head of employment and data protection at SA Law, the current Equality Act provides the “bare minimum of protection” for transgender people.

He told Attitude: “The law as it currently stands is very much limited in its remit.

“It provides the bare minimum of protection under the Equality Act 2010 to an exclusive group of employees who are proposing to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment, namely, trans people.

“Although a step forward from the pre-Equality Act 2010 days which protected only those undergoing medical procedures or supervision, it nonetheless leaves transgender employees and those with non-binary gender identities exposed and in a vulnerable state of limbo.

“Those individuals who fall under this wider trans umbrella may be protected if they experience discrimination because they are perceived to be going through gender reassignment, regardless of whether or not this is true.

“Surely, however, this fails to recognise them as individuals worthy of protection in their own right and cannot be the only safeguard that they are afforded by the law.

“Given that the legal landscape falls significantly short of the mark, it should come as no surprise that employers’ attitudes have correspondingly been found wanting in this regard with more than one in three UK employers admitting that they are less likely to hire a transgender person.

“Research conducted by the Institute of Employment Studies in 2017 also found that transphobia, negative treatment, aggression and prejudice continues to permeate the labour market.

“The law must be used as a mechanism for social change, creating a positive framework to guide the attitude and behaviour of the UK workforce.

“This would, in turn, encourage employers to develop trans-inclusive policies and be more alert to the pernicious actions that transgender employees so frequently encounter.

“As suggested by the Woman and Equalities Select Committee in 2016, simply changing the language of the Equalities Act 2010 and replacing the words ‘gender reassignment’ with ‘gender identity’ would be a powerful step in the right direction.”