Effective December 11, 2015, Alberta has added gender identity and gender expression as a prohibited ground of discrimination under its Human Rights Act.
Former Bill 7 does not define what gender identity or expression mean, however, the amendments to the Act are intended to affirm the rights of transsexuals, transgenderists, intersexed persons, cross-dressers and other groups who routinely suffer discrimination based on the expression of their gender or the gender identity they experience.
What does this mean for employers?
Section 7 of the Act now contains the new prohibited ground; therefore, employers cannot refuse to employ or refuse to continue to employ any person, or discriminate against any person with regard to employment or any term or condition of employment, because of a person’s gender identity or gender expression.
Practically speaking, employers must remember that they will be responsible for discriminatory comments their employees make on their own in the workplace context, or at the employer’s request and they must make themselves and their employees aware of discrimination and human rights responsibilities based on gender identity and gender expression.
It is important to become informed: start with the basic distinction between the terms. Gender identity includes one’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match. Gender expression is an external manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine”, “feminine” or gender-variant behaviour, clothing, hairstyle, voice or body characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned sex.
It is recommended that organizations learn about the needs of trans people, look for barriers, develop or modify policies and procedures, and undertake training. This will help make sure trans people and other gender non-conforming individuals are treated with dignity and respect and enjoy equal rights and freedom from discrimination.
With these recent amendments, Alberta joins the following jurisdictions with gender identity and gender expression in human rights legislation: Ontario; Nova Scotia; Newfoundland and Labrador; Prince Edward Island, Manitoba (gender identity only); Saskatchewan (gender identity only); and Northwest Territories (gender identity only).