By Joshua C. Black, Esq.
Email signature lines used in business communications can include many things: name, job title, phone number, social media links and most recently, personal pronouns.
The practice of adding preferred pronouns to your signature block is a trend that is picking up momentum in American workplaces. The idea behind this practice is to create a more inclusive work environment where people of all gender identities can feel comfortable. For example, an employee who identifies as a male may choose to list the pronouns: "he, him, his" after his email signature. The theory behind this trend is that listing preferred pronouns will help prevent misgendering when addressing coworkers and clients.
Adding pronouns to an email signature is a simple way to signal to others that you recognize and respect everyone’s gender identity. The practice of listing identifying pronouns in signature lines can also lead to more diversity, equality, and acceptance in the workplace.
Recently, some employers have even gone so far as to start requiring employees to add this identifier to their work email signature; a requirement that may not sit well with some staff members. As with any new policy, an employer must consider how implementation will affect employees, and be sure the policy does not inadvertently result in discrimination or disparate treatment for any one person or group.
If a company wishes to incorporate this type of inclusivity into its culture, it would be best to suggest changes to signature lines, rather than require employees to participate. Making pronoun identification elective provides options for employees. Employees who feel uplifted by the idea can participate, while others can opt out and continue as they always have, without these descriptors at the end of their email communications if that is their preference.
Of course, if a company does make such a requirement of its employees, the organization would be wise to have an accommodation process in place where employees who feel they have valid reasons to be excused from participation can engage in a reasonable dialog with the employer to ensure exceptions can be made, if necessary.
Additionally, in an effort to help employees adapt and evolve with the ever-changing times, businesses should communicate with employees about the change and the company’s stance on building a tolerant and inclusive workplace culture ahead of time. These modifications should then be added to company HR documents including employee handbooks and new-hire documents.
Lastly, if the change in signature line requirements prompts accusations or insinuations of mistreatment based on gender or gender-identity, the parties should contact an employment attorney right away to discuss legal rights and obligations.