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Is refusal to use preferred pronouns considered discrimination?

On Behalf of | May 10, 2023 | Workplace Discrimination

In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of the need to respect an individual’s gender identity and expression. This includes the use of preferred pronouns, which are personal pronouns that an individual prefers to use to address themselves, such as “he/him,” “she/her,” or “they/them.” 

However, not everyone understands the importance of using preferred pronouns; some may even refuse to use them. Is your boss’ refusal to use yours a form of gender discrimination?

Preferred pronouns and gender identity

Discrimination is any practice or behavior that treats an individual unfairly or adversely because of certain characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Discrimination can manifest in many ways, including but not limited to harassment, exclusion, denial of opportunities and benefits, and unequal treatment.

Preferred pronouns allow individuals to express their gender identity and signal their preferred way of being addressed. Using them is a simple yet powerful way to recognize and respect an individual’s identity and autonomy.

When someone refuses to use an individual’s preferred pronouns, it can be hurtful, disrespectful, and even harmful. It can signal a lack of understanding or disregard for the individual’s gender identity and create an unwelcoming or hostile environment. 

However, if your boss forgets or makes an inadvertent mistake in using your pronouns, it may not be discriminatory if they take corrective action and apologize. Similarly, suppose your boss raises legitimate concerns about the difficulty of using specific pronouns in certain contexts, such as legal documents or client interactions. In that case, it may not be discrimination if they make a good-faith effort to address the issues while respecting your identity.

Your boss’ refusal to use your preferred pronouns can be evidence of discrimination if it is part of a pattern of behavior that demonstrates bias or hostility towards transgender or non-binary individuals. This issue must be addressed to ensure a work environment that is safe and inclusive.