There is no legal requirement for workers to state their gender or preferred pronouns publicly, or any law that asks companies to make their employees choose a pronoun. Nevertheless, there is nothing to stop workers from including their preferred pronouns in email signatures should they wish to (though employees would be wise to check any Company policy around company-wide standard email signatures first before doing so).

Some businesses have started to ask employees to include their pronouns in email signatures. However, for those thinking of introducing such a policy in an effort to be more inclusive, it could have the opposite effect.

David Browne, one of our employment law experts, had this to say on the matter:

“Although such a request may be done with the best intentions – to address individuals with respect and courtesy in the way that they wish to be referred to – employers must be wary about asking for information from employees that could impact the way they are treated. Despite the fact that they can’t force people to disclose this kind of information, everyone should feel comfortable sharing preferred pronouns if they feel it important to do so.

“Under the law of England and Wales there are nine protected characteristics: age, sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity and marriage or civil partnership. It is against the law to make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of any individual or group because of these characteristics and that treatment is prohibited in one of four main forms.

“These are, direct discrimination (less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic), indirect discrimination (the application of rules or arrangements which put those with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage), harassment (unwanted conduct on the basis of a protected characteristic that creates a hostile or degrading environment) and victimisation (unfair treatment of an individual because they’ve complained, or may complain, of discrimination).

“Forcing employees to reveal their pronoun preferences could leave employers open to discrimination claims, and employees feeling alienated.

“Having an inclusive workplace culture is crucial. However, singling out one group of people is a dangerous game for employers. Being open, honest and, above all else, celebrating people’s differences will no doubt go a long way to improve culture, retention and breed a workforce that looks beyond age, gender, race or the like. There is simply no need to force employees to reveal any more information than they are comfortable with.”

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David is the lead employment partner for the firm’s education clients and provides sector specialist advice to universities and colleges. He regularly provides clients with strategic advice on issues such as major restructures; TUPE; and trade union relations. David also undertakes a significant amount of contentious work for both education and non-education clients, including representation at employment tribunals, the EAT and the Court of Appeal.

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Published: 9th January 2020
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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