Real Employment Law Advice

Do your staff have a ‘preferred pronoun’?

What is a preferred pronoun and what do I need to know as an employer?

Some of you may have noticed that there is a growing trend of people putting “she/her”, “they/them” or “he/his” after their last names in their social media profile descriptions and email signatures.

Having received an enquiry from one of our HR Harbour customers who had noted this occurrence on LinkedIn, we thought it would be something of interest for others.

The movement is concerned with gender inclusion and seems to have become increasingly prevalent over the last few years with celebrities like Sam Smith showing support.

Simply put people are choosing to show their support and distinguish themselves by notifying others of their preferred pronouns. 

Why do this?

The idea behind it is to help those who are, for example transgender, non-binary, genderfluid and intersex feel included in society and welcomed in all environments including work.

Whilst there is no requirement to do it, we have seen an increasing number of employers and organisations choosing to encourage (or at least support the idea of) staff explicitly notifying others of their preferred pronouns. 

The most common pronouns currently are:

  • she/her/hers (for someone who might identify themselves as female)
  • he/him/his (for someone who might identify themselves as male)
  • they/them/their (these are gender neutral pronouns for someone who might not identify strictly as male or female (sometimes otherwise known as non-binary)).

How does this affect employers?

As mentioned above, there is no requirement to take part in the movement. However, like all movements, showing your support may improve relationships with other businesses and could even create new relationships.

As this is fairly new, there are of course no cases on this topic, but having considered the potential issues that could arise we would note that there may be potential for discrimination claims where employees fail to address other employees by their preferred pronouns especially if this has been clearly communicated to them. 

What can you do? What steps should you consider taking?

Educating your staff via update emails or communication meetings on the topic is a good way to explain that they should be mindful of preferred pronouns of colleagues internally and also customers, suppliers or contacts externally and that this should be respected especially if this has been made obvious to them on a number of occasions.

If you want to go that one step further and show that your business is in support of it and wish to encourage employees to be aware of it then you can implement this into your Equality & Diversity policy.  For example, including wording in your policy to remind employees to ensure that they do not risk discriminating or upsetting others including colleagues, customers and suppliers by failing to refer to them by their preferred pronoun.

As always, revisiting your Equality & Diversity policy to ensure that it is up to date is always good practice. The reason is twofold – you keep up to date with the current legal requirements and you build a reputation of a good employer.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.


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