Learning to Use Employees’ Preferred Gender Pronouns


Using the pronouns employees prefer is more than common courtesy; it is their civil right. You can imagine; it’s bad enough if a co-worker calls you the wrong name. But, when it is a name most associated with a gender you don’t identify with, it’s an even greater insult. By definition, “Transgender” is a canopy term that refers to people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. (The term includes nonbinary, gender-fluid and genderqueer.) Some transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals prefer to use pronouns other than he/him/his or she/her/hers, such as they/them/theirs or ze/hir. Their choice goes to the very core of their identity and needs to be respected.




Legal Rights

Most employees have come to understand that you can’t make remarks about race or religion, but they need to add to their understanding that discriminatory remarks about transgender and nonbinary people is also, not acceptable.   

Using the pronouns employees prefer is more than common courtesy; it’s their civil right. Federal law on the subject arises out of agency and court interpretations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which expressly prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination also bans any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Best practice suggests, employees should identify their gender identity to management and co-​workers and they should then use the employee’s chosen name and pronoun “in employee records and in communications with and about the employee”. Iowa law specifically calls out sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

Workplace Cultures Need Work

Culturally speaking, employers have to train both managers and employees. Almost all companies have behavior and conduct statements that say we respect one another but repeatedly misgendering someone can be disrespectful and unwelcoming. So, increasingly, companies are removing “he” and “she” from their employee handbooks and replacing them with gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they”.  Companies are doing this to make nonbinary individuals who do not identify as male or female feel included. The companies are also scrapping such gender-specific pronouns as “his,” “hers,” “him” and “her” in favor of “their” and “them.” For example:  a company “may also want to define ’employee’ early in its handbook and say that it includes employees who identify as male, female or nonbinary.  Then the company could use ’employee’ in the handbook, knowing the definition has already been established. Implementing these changes will benefit your business overall and all your employees’ experiences at work.   

Please reach out to HR On-Call if you would like to start making language and policies neutral or as gender-inclusive as possible. Additionally, training on Diversity, Inclusion and Unconscious Bias available.  


Susan Arnold
HR On-Call, LLC
p. 515.401.2233
e . Susan@HROn-Call.com

A little more about us: Susan Arnold, owner and lead HR Consultant at HR On-Call, LLC. Susan has 20+ years of HR experience and provides a HR presence to business organizations without the overhead expense of a full-time employee. Susan helps business owners improve employer/employee relationships and allows them to focus on their business while resting assured that they are in full compliance with state and federal law. Areas of expertise:

  • Reduce Employer Risk and Liability
  • Customized Employee Handbooks
  • Performance Reviews
  • Improve Employee/Employer Relationships
  • Background Checks
  • Personality Assessments
  • Guaranteed EEO Compliance
  • Employee Retention
  • Recruitment / Hiring
  • Employee Discipline/Discharge

Susan is passionate about her customers and listens to their needs. If you are interested in any of the details above or would like more information about her services, please contact Susan! If you have questions on how your specific policy should read or need help navigating a certain instance, contact HR On-Call, LLC

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