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Employers can't deny health coverage for transgender employees

Recent guidance out from the Department of Health and Human Services clarifies that under the recent healthcare overhaul employers and insurers cannot discriminate against or deny coverage for employees who don't conform to "stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity."

This guidance offers additional security for transgender employees who worry about being discriminated against through channels that are not yet clearly defined as illegal. It is common for employers to try to terminate an employee or deny benefits for an ostensibly legal reason but with illegal motivations for doing so.

This is one more step towards equality for transgender employees, who had a major victory earlier this year when the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ruled that the Civil Rights Act's prohibition on sex discrimination includes transgender discrimination.

Many employers still have strict standards for treatment for transgender employees seeking hormone therapy or surgical options. Most experts agree that employers and insurers who proscribe strict limits for treatment are seeking to keep costs controlled and to prevent employees from seeking coverage for medically unnecessary cosmetic surgeries.

The American Medical Association has issued recommendations for necessary services for patients who identify with a gender other than the one associated with their biological sex. There are a variety of ways to treat these patients, including mental health counseling, hormone therapy, and surgical procedures that help reconcile their internal and external selves.

For employers, the most important thing to take away from the guidance is that discrimination for any gender-based reason is illegal and that denying an employee benefits for that reason is prohibited.

More information about sex and gender discrimination can be found on our Pittsburgh employment law website.

Source: NPR, "More Employer's Health Plans Include Benefits For Transgender People," Michelle Andrews, August 4, 2012.

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