Skip to main content
OL&I Logo

Gender/Gender Identity at Work

Oregon law protects you from discrimination based on your sex and sexual orientation, including gender identity.

It’s illegal for your employer, public businesses, places of housing, or other “public accommodations” to treat you differently because of your sex, sexual orientation, or gender.

You are protected both at work and outside of work.

Federal civil rights laws and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also protect you from discrimination based on sex, gender identity including transgender status, or sexual orientation.

Helpful terms

  • Sex refers to biological differences based on genitalia, hormonal and genetic classifications of persons, including male, female and intersex, although courts have taken a more expansive view of the term to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical or emotional attraction to people of the same and/or other genders. It is about whom you love, whether described as heterosexual (straight), gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or asexual.
  • Gender identity or simply gender is a person’s deeply-felt sense of being male, female, non-binary, third gender or two-spirit, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth. It is about who you are.
  • Gender expression involves a person’s characteristics and behaviors, such as appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions, often perceived as masculine, feminine or androgynous.
  • A person who is transgender, or trans, is a person whose gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth.
  • A person may be gender fluid, when gender identity or expression shifts over time.
  • A transition is the process of changing one’s gender from the sex assigned at birth to conform to one’s gender identity. It may involve “coming out” to one’s family, friends and co-workers or a change of name and/or gender marker on legal documents. It may also involve accessing medical treatment, such as hormone therapy or surgery, but such interventions are not part of every transition.
  • Cisgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. ("Trans-" means across from and "Cis-" means on the same side as.)
  • Gender roles are expectations and prohibitions that society has placed on people based on conceptions of how members of a gender have historically behaved or should behave. This includes expectations that women should dress in a feminine way and men should dress in a masculine way or that she should be a secretary or nurse and he should do manual labor or be a soldier.

Frequently asked questions

For workers

What should I do if I feel that I have been discriminated against because of my gender?

You can file a complaint with BOLI.

I am transgender. Can my employer ask me to use the gender neutral restroom in our building?

No, they may not. Anti-discrimination laws allow you to use the restroom that corresponds with your gender identity. While there is not a legal requirement to provide gender neutral restrooms, there is growing recognition that non-binary, gender fluid and third gender persons may be more comfortable using one, and it may correspond more closely to their gender identities than a restroom designated male or female.

I am planning to transition / considering transitioning. What are my rights at work?

You have a right to openly discuss your gender identity and expression or to keep it private. 

Your employer should be willing to meet with you to discuss working together on a transition plan, if you desire the involvement of management in the process. They should ask for your approval before making any disclosures or announcements to other employees. 

You cannot be treated differently because of your gender identity. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint.

It is challenging for me to know which pronouns to use. How do I know? I know a trans person who prefers plural pronouns, but that seems grammatically incorrect to me.

It may be a challenge and take some time to get into the habit of using a new set of pronouns correctly. But it is important to try and get it right. Using pronouns incorrectly or refusing to use a trans person’s new name on purpose may even be evidence of discrimination or harassment. 

We know which pronouns to use by asking. It is generally acceptable to ask. When in doubt, it is generally preferred to use neutral pronouns or simply use the person’s name. In fact, people are now often putting their pronouns (he, him and his or she, her and hers, or they, them and their) into their email signature blocks, whether they are transgender or cisgender. 

As to the grammar issue, language is an evolving thing. The increasing use of pronouns like “they” and “them”’ to refer to a singular person is a case in point. It is also courteous and a sign that you are being inclusive and respectful of their identity. Using their desired name and pronouns, and being respectful and inclusive are great steps toward promoting healthy and supportive work environments and staying in compliance with the law.

What does LGBTQ or LGBTQIA2S mean?

These letters, with occasional variation, stand for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (not “transgendered” since this is who people are, not something that has happened to them) and queer (or questioning). The longer form here includes intersex, asexual (or androgynous) and two-spirit. 

Intersex is the term that describes a person born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. These characteristics may be genetic, genital, sexual, reproductive or hormonal configurations. 

Asexual is a term that refers to an individual’s lack of interest in sex or unwillingness to be identified as a sexual being.

Two-spirit is a pan-Indian term used by Native and Indigenous North Americans to indicate that they embody both a masculine and a feminine spirit, or to describe people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender.

Third gender is a category of people who do not identify as male or female, but rather as neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.

This acronym keeps growing and changing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite, and our language is continually adapting to be able to accurately describe people’s experiences. The reality is that many of us do not fit neatly and comfortably into one of two binary sexes or the gender identities and gender roles that our culture has historically dictated.

I have a co-worker who identifies as queer because they say that none of the other labels out there seems to fit who they are. I am a little unsure about the term “queer” because it has been used in a derogatory way and I don’t want to offend. Any suggestions?

Kudos for not wanting to offend a co-worker. The term “queer” could still be offensive, depending on what is in the mind and heart of the person using it. However, the term has been reclaimed by many in the community of people who do not conform to traditional notions of gender and sexuality. It has become the label of choice for those who seek a more inclusive category. It has also been used by many who gravitate toward labels that are not represented in the acronym, such as pansexual and genderqueer. Using the term “queer” in the workplace where appropriate for someone who chooses to identify as queer should be fine – it may even be your best option for promoting a respectful and inclusive workplace.

I am cisgender and heterosexual. Do the laws that protect LGBTQIA2S folks from discrimination protect me, too?

Yes. Cisgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you worked at a place where everyone else was gay and trans and they discriminated against you or harassed you based on your gender identity or sexual orientation, that would be unlawful. We are all members of many protected classifications and the laws do not just protect those who are members of a subcategory that has historically been subjected to discrimination.

For employers

This guidance is intended to help employers understand Oregon’s legal protections based on gender identity in employment. It is also intended to provide some practical information to help employers understand and navigate this aspect of the modern workplace.

Thoughtful consideration of gender issues is rooted in providing safe, inclusive work environments and public spaces where all people are treated equally and fairly, irrespective of where they may be on the gender, sexual orientation and sexuality spectra.

This discussion of gender issues is aided by looking at some of the terms used in understanding gender concepts. Please see above for definitions.

What does LGBTQ or LGBTQIA2S mean?

It’s helpful to understand what these acronyms mean. Those letters, with occasional variation, stand for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (not “transgendered” since this is who people are, not something that has happened to them) and queer (or questioning). The longer form includes intersex, asexual (or androgynous) and two-spirit. 

Intersex is the term that describes a person born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. These characteristics may be genetic, genital, sexual, reproductive or hormonal configurations. 

Asexual is a term that refers to an individual’s lack of interest in sex or unwillingness to be identified as a sexual being.

Two-spirit is a pan-Indian term used by Native and Indigenous North Americans to indicate that they embody both a masculine and a feminine spirit, or to describe people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender.

Third gender is a category of people who do not identify as male or female, but rather as neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.

This acronym keeps growing and changing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite, and our language is continually adapting to be able to accurately describe people’s experiences. The reality is that many of us do not fit neatly and comfortably into one of two binary sexes or the gender identities and gender roles that our culture has historically dictated.

You include the term “queer” in the acronym. Isn’t that a derogatory term for a gay person?

It was. And it could still be depending on what is in the mind and heart of the person using it. However, the term has been reclaimed by many in the community of people who do not conform to traditional notions of gender and sexuality. It has become the label of choice for those who seek a more inclusive category. It has also been used by many who gravitate toward labels that are not represented in the acronym, such as pansexual and genderqueer. Banning the use of the term “queer” in the workplace could be viewed as hostile to those an employer seeks to protect. A more nuanced approach may be necessary to allow the use of the term for those in the community and their allies, while addressing and correcting the derogatory use of it.

I am cisgender and heterosexual. Do the laws that protect LGBTQIA2S folks from discrimination protect me, too?

Yes. Cisgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you worked at a place where everyone else was gay and trans and they discriminated against you or harassed you based on your gender identity or sexual orientation, that would be unlawful. 

We are all members of many protected classifications and the laws do not just protect those who are members of a subcategory that has historically been subjected to discrimination.

The issue that seems to cause the most concern in our workplace is which restrooms people use. May I ask my transgender employees to use the gender neutral restroom we have installed?

No, you may not. Anti-discrimination laws allow people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. While this may cause concern for those who do not agree with or understand people’s identities and expressions, it is not only the law, but it is also the fairest and most practical approach. 

If you have the ability to offer a gender neutral restroom in your workplace, these often feel safest for trans folks; however, they cannot be compelled to use the gender neutral restroom. In the end, the reality is that people use the restroom because they have to take care of personal business. We typically cannot know by looking at someone what their gender identity, gender assigned at birth, gender expression and sexual orientation are. It is best to allow people to use the facilities where they feel most comfortable. Frankly, it is none of our business… and it is the law.

It is challenging for me to know which pronouns to use. How do I know? I know a trans person who prefers plural pronouns, but that seems grammatically incorrect to me.

It may be a challenge and take some time to get into the habit of using a new set of pronouns correctly. But it is important to try and get it right. Using pronouns incorrectly or refusing to use a trans person’s new name on purpose may even be evidence of discrimination or harassment. 

We know which pronouns to use by asking. It is generally acceptable to ask. When in doubt, it is generally preferred to use neutral pronouns or simply use the person’s name. In fact, people are now often putting their pronouns (he, him and his or she, her and hers, or they, them and their) into their email signature blocks, whether they are transgender or cisgender. 

As to the grammar issue, language is an evolving thing. The increasing use of pronouns like “they” and “them”’ to refer to a singular person is a case in point. It is also courteous and a sign that you are being inclusive and respectful of their identity. Using their desired name and pronouns, and being respectful and inclusive are great steps toward promoting healthy and supportive work environments and staying in compliance with the law.

Rumor has it one of our employees is poised to transition. That’s obviously a very personal decision, what’s my role as an employer?

Employees have a right to openly discuss their gender identity and expression or to keep these things private. 

Employers should be willing to meet with transitioning employees to discuss working together on a transition plan, if the employees desire the involvement of management in the process. Secure approval by the transitioning employee before making any disclosures or announcements to other employees. If announcements are made, it may be wise to point out the requirement to continue treating the transitioning employee with dignity and respect. 

Reference to an anti-harassment or respectful workplace policy will put employees on notice that the transgender employee is entitled to protection. A handbook provision will let employees know that transition assistance is available, including updates to employee directories and new ID badges or name placards. Typically, questions about medical issues and genitalia are considered intrusive and should not be asked. Expressions of support from management for the transitioning employee, if welcome, can be quite powerful and set the tone for how other employees react to the change.



Disclaimer: This website is not intended as legal advice. Any responses to specific questions are based on the facts as we understand them and the law that was current when the responses were written. They are not intended to apply to any other situations. This communication is not an agency order. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.​


Your browser is out-of-date! It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how

×