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Pronouns are a part of our everyday language used to refer to others and ourselves. They are similar to our names, used as personal identifiers. While we may not often consider it, they are quite important to how we view ourselves, and our relations to the world. Gender can be reflected in pronouns, which are reflected in everyday language, including the language used in the workplace. 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRONOUNS and NEOPRONOUNS?

Part of understanding how pronouns operate in the workplace is the language they are related to, starting with pronouns and neopronouns.

 As we are all likely familiar with the term personal “pronouns”, how we identify ourselves and or how we prefer to be identified by others in the first person (as I), second person (as you), or third person (as he, she, it, they, Ze). There may lie a lack of understanding with the term “neopronouns”. Neopronouns are a category of neologistic English third-person personal pronouns beyond ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘they’, ‘one’ and ‘it’. They are commonly preferred by non-binary individuals who feel that neopronouns provide more options to reflect their gender identity more accurately than a traditional pronoun. 

Examples of Traditional Pronouns: she/her, he/him, they/them

Examples of Neopronouns: ne/nem, ze/zir, ve/ver

It is important to consider that using someone’s correct pronouns demonstrates respect, courtesy and gender inclusivity. Everyone deserves to have their self-ascribed name and pronouns respected in the workplace, and in everyday life. While society has progressed in terms of quashing society norms relating to gender identity and expression, there are still many challenges and barriers relating to diversity, equality, and inclusivity, especially in employment. 

We at Sultan Lawyers are hoping to encourage acceptance and provide ways businesses and employers can support all gender identities and facilitate inclusivity and equity.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

 In 2012, Gender Identity and Gender Expression became an explicit ground worthy of protection under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Therein, it was made illegal to discriminate and or harass based on ones gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing, facilities and services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or professional associations. However, the Code does not specify the use of any particular pronoun or other terminology.

LANGUAGE ASSOCIATED WITH PRONOUNS  AND NEOPRONOUNS 

Being conscientious of pronouns and relative language in your everyday practice can be beneficial for your business, your clients, and society by encouraging and promoting inclusivity, diversity, and equity.

The gender in which one identifies may be the same or different from their birth-assigned sex. A good way to illustrate it is that gender identity is a person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It can include the sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Different than sexual orientation or sex. Sex simply refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females. 

Below we have defined common terms associated with gender, and gender expression:

Gender expression 

Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This generally refers to behaviour and outward appearances such as the way someone dresses, their hair, make-up, body language and their voice. And further, ones pronouns are also a way someone can publicly present or express their gender.

CIS gender 

CIS gender relates to a person whose sense of gender identity corresponds with their birth sex.

Trans or transgender 

Trans or transgender is an umbrella term referring to people with diverse gender identities and expressions that differ from stereotypical gender norms. It includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, trans woman (male-to-female), trans man (female-to-male), transsexual, cross-dresser, gender non-conforming, gender variant or genderqueer.

PRONOUNS IN THE WORKPLACE

As society progresses norms relating to gender expression and identity, businesses must adapt to these progressing societal changes to ensure standards of inclusivity, equity and diversity are met. Speaking in relation to an employee-employer relationship, adapting can begin as early as the hiring stage. 

  • In the hiring process.

Providing a section in the job application dedicated to candidates selecting their pronouns can go a long way with gender expressive employees feeling welcomed and accepted. Further, it is also neutral to leave an “other” section, to provide room for the candidate to be more clear in their identities. In the interview stage, a respectful way to confirm someone’s pronouns is to share your own pronouns and ask the candidate what pronoun they prefer to be addressed by. Disclosing one’s pronouns communicates that our gender is not assumed.

  • Email signatures and greetings.

Consider including pronouns in work email signatures or name tags at work to foster a culture of inclusivity. Additionally, consider the way you phrase your e-mail greetings such as “Dear Ladies/Gentleman”, and instead use, still formal, but neutral language

  • Incorporate neutral language.

In formal or informal communications, make sure all participants feel acknowledged, safe and included. This approach creates an expectation of inclusion that applies to the entire workforce. Businesses should include language in their employee policies stipulating that employees can expect their colleagues to use the pronouns they identify with. To go even further, employers can implement name policies and self-identification codes to promote awareness and facilitate inclusivity.

  • Practice using someone’s pronouns so that you can get this right as soon as possible.

  • Respect employees’ privacy. 

Never ask someone about gender-affirming medical or surgical histories. With being such a private subject refrain from asking personal questions that can be deemed inappropriate or unsolicited. Pronouns are strictly for the use of language and communications, and not necessary for anything beyond the required use of language.

  • Do not assume one’s identity or pronouns. 

While it may seem easy, or even obvious to some, never assume one’s gender identity or pronouns solely by observing the way they present themselves. 

The experience of being misgendered can be hurtful, angering, and even distracting. The experience of accidentally misgendering someone can be embarrassing for both parties, creating tension and leading to communication breakdowns across teams and with customers.

However, it is okay to make mistakes so long as you use it as a learning opportunity to do better next time. If someone uses your incorrect pronoun at your place of work, or you notice someone else uses the incorrect pronoun towards someone else, it is appropriate to gently correct the person without drawing too much attention to the individual who has been misgendered. 

For example; “Actually, Taylor prefers the pronoun he”, “Melissa’s pronouns are they/them”

If an employer or colleague is consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, it would be beneficial to have a private conversation with them about the importance of using the correct pronouns.

Furthermore, someone’s pronouns could change throughout the length of your relationship. If a shift occurs, an individual does not owe a personal explanation. Simply shift your language to reflect the pronouns someone shares with you.

Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT)

In the case of EN JR FH  v. Gallagher’s Bar and Lounge, 2021 HRTO 240, an employer was sued by 3 employees for discriminating against them based on their gender identities, gender expressions, and sex by subjecting them to trans- and homophobic language, intentional outing, and by misgendering them through his refusal to use their preferred pronouns.  

The allegations were accepted by the OHRT. Leading the Tribunal to accept that the owner’s misgendering or intentional use of improper pronouns constituted discrimination. Further, the actions of the employer were deemed to cause constructive dismissal. The events lead to the employees feeling unsafe, and uncomfortable attending their workplace, forcing them to experience stress going to work and further, financial losses.

Ultimately, the Tribunal awarded the applicants monetary compensation for lost wages and injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect and ordered the respondent to make restitution to the party whose rights were infringed. 

Contact Sultan Lawyers for Assistance Navigating Workplace Issues Related to Gender Identity

If you are an employee or an employer needing assistance navigating a workplace situation relating to the topics of gender identity, and expression contact the employment lawyers at Sultan Lawyers for a legal opinion. We can be reached at 416-214-5111, or by email khayward@sultanlawyers.com.


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