Trans-species employee rights at work
In August, a Melbourne private school hit the headlines after it publicly supported a student’s choice to identify as a cat. According to the Herald Sun, the school allows the “phenomenally bright” student to act like cat. This is as long as her behaviour doesn’t disrupt the class. For some of us, this story is just another example that proves the world has truly gone mad. For others, it’s a sign that we live in a progressive society where we’re free to express ourselves in any way we like. In today’s workplace environment trans-species employee rights at work is a great topic to discuss
Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying that an individual’s ability to identify as anything they please – whether as a different gender or even species – is increasingly seen as an inalienable right in today’s society. So, if school kids are now allowed to identify as cats, why not adults in the workplace too?
The growing “Furry” subculture
You might think the case of the student identifying as a cat is simply the byproduct of a child’s vivid imagination. But such behaviour is in fact part of a broader subculture known as “Furries”. A community that consists of thousands of adults across Australia.
Furries, according to the ABC, are people who create anthropomorphic identities often called “fursonas”. These trans-species people are fast gaining mainstream acceptance and have even entered some workplaces. One such person who’s “fursona” has crossed into her professional life is Naia Okami, a 27-year-old online investigator who works for a non-profit organisation in Seattle, United States.
Okami, who’s also transgender, identifies as a British Columbia Wolf. An identity that she says relates to her day job.
“I relate of what I do to being a wolf,” Okami told This Morning. “One of the things I do is with the non-profit, I investigate trafficking and child predators. I always make the joke that as a wolf I’m hunting my prey – the predators are my prey, which is kinda ironic!”.
Online investigator Naia Okami says she’s “spiritually” a British Columbia Wolf. (PHOTOS: ITV and Bruce McKay, via Wikimedia Commons) Naia, however, says that she doesn’t actually think she’s a wolf. Rather, it’s more of an abstract sense of identification.
“I don’t physically believe that I’m a wolf,” she said. “It’s more a spiritual and psychological identification as a wolf. I’m completely aware I’m human right? I go to work every day, I don’t necessarily dress like this for work. At the same token, spiritually, somehow I’m a wolf.”Naia Okami
Still can perform the inherent functions of the role
Naia Okami is clearly arguing that she can still perform the inherent functions of her role now’s she a wolf. One of the outcomes of this is she cannot be dismissed. But where does this leave her co workers? How do they react?, respond? If she starts howling in the workplace (that’s what wolves do) Is this a form of bullying, or intimidation towards co workers. Or do they have to accept this because this is who Naia Okami is.
Identifying as a Furry – a dangerous delusion or harmless lifestyle choice?
Back in the nineteenth century, British philosopher John Stuart Mill articulated what became known as the “harm principle.” In his essay On Liberty, Mill wrote: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
What this means in layman’s terms is that people should be free to do whatever they like, as long as they don’t harm anyone else. This is the line of reasoning that the Melbourne private school has adopted with respect to the cat-identifying student. “No one seems to have a protocol for students identifying as animals, but the approach has been that if it doesn’t disrupt the school, everyone is being supportive,” a source close to the student’s family told the Herald Sun.
For some, this approach seems perfectly reasonable. After all, if the student isn’t disrupting the learning of her classmates, what’s the problem? But others, like United Australia Party Senator Ralph Babet, think accepting this sort of behaviour is not only absurd, but a clear sign that society has gone mad.
“This is a symptom of allowing the woke radical left in society to run rampant, unchecked”. “Can we just put a stop to this garbage right now. You go to school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. You are not a cat. You are a little girl. The end.”stated Babet on social media.
Employees in the workplace
Allowing a child to identify as a cat may seem harmless to many people. After all, children are afforded a certain amount of license to indulge in play acting and fantasy. But what about adults doing the same in the workplace? If you turned up to your workplace tomorrow claiming to be a cat, a wolf or maybe even an elephant, would your employer be forced to accommodate your self-professed identity?
Where does it end, can the employer assume now that your identified as a cat, that you should be micro chipped and spayed (council regulations). If your not council compliant, can you be dismissed?. Or can you just pick the good bits that suit you when you want to be a animal. This is untested issues not currently addressed by the various human rights commission or the Fair work Commission the peak workplace tribunal in Australia
Self-identities and workplace rights
In today’s world, an ever-increasing spectrum of identities that challenge societal norms are gaining mainstream acceptance. The most commonly accepted is of course transgenderism. That is, identifying with a gender not assigned to you at birth. It is, however, not as simple as that. Under the umbrella of transgenderism exists a near infinitude of non-binary-identities. These range from gender fluid and asexual, to pansexual and polygender.
Society has also experimented with, and rejected, the notion of trans-racialism. That is, identifying with a race not assigned to you at birth. The most infamous case of trans-racialism is that of American woman Rachel Dolezal, who identified and presented herself as a black woman, despite having been born to white parents. Dolezal, who was even a local chapter president of the National Association of Colored People, drew widespread outrage for what many claimed was an egregious appropriation of the African American identity.
The idea of your identity crossing the bounds of your species is perhaps the newest addition to the ever-growing list of alternative identities. And as such, there are of course no laws protecting the rights of those who identify as another species. There are, however, laws that offer workplace protections for transgender people. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) states that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity.
This includes discriminating against them because of their dress, expression, transition status or use of hormone therapy. And the discrimination protections apply to any workplace situation. This includes job advertisements, recruitment and selection, training and promotion opportunities, terms of employment and termination.
Workplace rules around dress codes
Based on the aforementioned gender identity protections, some may infer similar rights for those who wish to present themselves as trans-species. The reasoning goes that if a woman who was born a male can wear a dress in the workplace, why can’t someone rock up to work dressed in, for example, a Furry outfit? Or start howling at customers? Can their employer legally ask them to stop? Can they be dismissed for not obeying a lawful instruction?
It’s generally accepted that employers are entitled to set a dress code and expect their employees to comply. However, any directives to employees on how they should dress or present themselves must be lawful, reasonable and not discriminate on any basis. The Fair Work Commission is yet to consider a case involving the unfair dismissal of an employee who refused to divest of their Furry outfit. But it’s highly likely that due to the lack of protections for those identifying as another species, they would likely lose their case.
Trans-species employee rights
Lets be honest if you turn up top work in say a tiger outfit, are you taking your job seriously. What sits in here somewhere is what the Fair work commission and the Federal court consider is maintaining the trust and confidence of the employer. Sometimes a tiger outfit won’t do that. If this is the road in life you want to go down, have the discussion with your employer
Considering the effect on colleagues or customers
But what about howling or meowing in the workplace, or even licking yourself. If you can still perform the inherent responsibilities of your role, why can’t you indulge in this sort of behaviour? Firstly, you must consider the effect that it would have on your colleagues. Perhaps there are progressive workplaces out there that take a very liberal attitude to their colleagues acting like a tabby cat. But if you’re on a call with an important customer, and they can hear your desk mate meowing in the background, what kind of reputation would that set for your company?
In all likelihood, such behaviour could provide reasonable grounds for disciplinary measures or even dismissal for serious misconduct. According to the Fair Work Commission, serious misconduct is when an employee:
- Causes serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of another person or to the reputation or profits of their employer’s business
- Deliberately behaves in a manner that’s inconsistent with continuing their employment.
Clearly, meowing at your customers, or having them see you dressed as a cat, could place your employer’s reputation at risk. And if you’ve been asked to refrain from such behaviour within your workplace, a refusal to do so could also prove grounds for serious misconduct.
Conclusion to: Trans-species employee rights at work
While this article explored the less serious side of workplace rights, we are deadly serious about helping Australian workers stand up for their rights. We are Australia’s leading workplace advisors and commentators. In the last two decades, we have assisted over 16,000 employees to make an unfair dismissal claim. We take on the hard subjects, the hard cases.. If your workplace is toxic, suffering adverse action because of who you are, or workplace harassment, call us without delay.
Call us today on 1800 333 666 for a free and confidential conversation.
Articles similar to Trans-species employee rights at work
Can you be dismissed for violating a workplace dress code? Click here
COVID-19 the workplace and dismissals what are your rights click here
Dismissed for not dressing properly click here
Fair or not? 5 abandonment of employment reasons, click here
Types of workplace harassment click here