HR Question of the Month

Preferred Personal Pronouns Required?

Question

As part of an effort to be inclusive of everyone, it was suggested that we ask all employees to put their preferred pronouns in their email signature. Are there any legal issues in requiring employees to do so? If they are uncomfortable with it, can we ask them to do it anyway? Related to that - can we ask them what their preferred pronoun is once we have hired them? What about while they are in the middle of the hiring process? What happens if the pronoun they give us is different from what their sex/gender is in terms of what we send over to our medical insurance carriers?

Answer

We strongly advise against mandating that employees identify their preferred pronouns on the company e-mail signature or making any inquiries about preferred pronouns at any time during the employment relationship, including the hiring and recruiting process. Such inquiries prior to hire are impermissible, and after hire such questions or requirements can further expose the employer to liability for gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment claims, and as such these proposals are ill-advised.

We appreciate the employer's interest in creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment and suggest adding language to the company’s EEO/anti-discrimination statement to indicate the employer’s inclusiveness and desire to use each employee's preferred pronouns. The employer can then, through the policy, invite employees to specifically disclose their preferred pronouns at any time -- but only if they wish to do so. The employer can further let employees know that including preferred pronouns on their email signature is permissible if they want to do that as well (but again, without requiring it). Any such disclosure to the employer or email signature statement should be entirely voluntary and employee-driven, with no direct or indirect pressure by the employer, and with no adverse consequences regardless of whether employees do or do not take advantage of these options (or if they add such language to their signature block and then change or delete it later, for example).

As for pronouns disclosed or provided by employees that appear to differ from what the employer initially understood their gender to be, it is unclear whether this creates any obligation on the part of the employer to notify its medical insurance carrier, and the employer can face exposure to potential liability if it discloses such information improperly. We recommend consulting with your carrier directly for specific guidance in the event an employee voluntarily discloses to the employer that he or she is of a different gender than the employer was previously aware of (which may or may not be the same thing as an employee who uses different pronouns).

Want to know more? Click here to listen to our podcast regarding personal pronouns and their use.

Want to know more? Listen to our podcast regarding personal pronouns and their use.

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