Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Trans Employees No Longer Under Threat from Social Security

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | September 16, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: no match letters, Social Security, Social Security Administration, SSA

According to a press release yesterday from NCTE, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has confirmed that it has ended the practice of allowing gender to be matched in its Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS). This will result in the immediate cessation of SSA sending notifications that alert employers when the gender marker on an employee's W-2 does not match Social Security records.

Commonly called "no-match letters," these have resulted in outings of transgender employees, often causing unfortunate consequences.

NCTE made a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how many of these no-match letters had been issued, and the scope of the problem revealed by the answer is quite startling.

I've blogged about this problem in years past, discussing the legal implications for transgender employees. It posed quite a conundrum for both employees and HR managers, and the end of this issue is to be applauded. The Obama Administration is to be commended for finally taking this step. The next step that needs to be taken is an end to the absurd policy, first imposed in the Bush era, of denying changes to gender on SSA accounts.

More on this from NCTE after the jump.

From the NCTE press release:

The extent of the problem was made crystal clear when NCTE's Freedom of Information Act request was answered showing 711,488 gender no-match letters were sent in 2010 alone. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality says, "Ending this practice, which has endangered transgender people and our jobs, has been a priority for NCTE and we are pleased that the SSA has updated its policy."

Keisling continued, "Alerting employers about differences in someone's gender threatened people's jobs and did not accomplish what this verification system was designed for. There was absolutely no reason for it and it was extremely dangerous for transgender people, who still face significant disrespect, discrimination and violence in the workplace."

For years, transgender employees have been contacting NCTE seeking advice about how to manage the difficult position that the Social Security Administration had placed them in with their employers. "Many people have been able to retain their jobs, but not all of them," Keisling noted, "and not one of them should have been fired just because the Social Security Administration outed them at a workplace where someone was prejudiced against transgender people."

The Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) allows employers to match their record of employee names and Social Security numbers (SSNs) with Social Security records for payroll reports. The notification letters alerted individuals and employers when information in a person's employment records is inconsistent with SSA's records for that employee. It was designed to ensure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled and that they are using a valid Social Security number for employment purposes. Unfortunately, this unfairly impacted transgender people whose gender marker had not been changed with the SSA.

NCTE has asked the SSA to stop sending employers these notices, and today, the SSA has made great progress in fixing the complex systems that generate such notices. In the event that you or someone you know does receive a gender no-match letter in the future, please contact us.

While we celebrate the end of gender no-match letters, the SSA still has an outdated policy for changing gender markers in SSA records. To change gender markers, SSA requires an unfair, unobtainable and unnecessary standard for transgender people that include proof of specific sex reassignment surgery. Mara Keisling says, "These requirements, particularly surgery, are far too expensive for many transgender people and present a major financial hurdle for a group of people who already face significantly high levels of under-employment and unemployment." NCTE will continue to work with the SSA to make changes to this policy so that transgender people are able to update their information with Social Security and ensure that they have equal access to the benefits Social Security provides.

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While this probably does not explain some of the more humiliating experiences I have been through (from living in the "Gateway City" there were these two: 1) The time I was called less than an hour before an interview and told not to show up because "We don't know what you are, but we don't want to do business with you," 2)the time a male interviewer got up and walked out in the middle of an interview and I was left sitting there with no explanation)....this former practice of SS could very well have had a major effect once I left that "river town," moved to Minneapolis and within a relatively short time accumulated a huge amount of employment rejection letters.

Both Social Security and my SSN have provided some of the most bizarre incidents that range from the laughable to frightening. Certainly, one of the most humorous was just before my first mammogram, I was asked for my SSN and when I provided it, the name that came up in the hospital records was still that of a male! Thank goodness my therapist prepared me well for the surreal world of a trans-woman.

Rachel Bellum | September 16, 2011 10:55 PM

Good news for everyone indeed. According to the hierarchy of needs inability to secure food and shelter prevent properly developing the rest.