Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Birth in Germany - why you need to keep up to date with the law

All businesses - and all people - operate under a set of constraints, some of which are imposed by society, and some of which are imposed by the government(s) where business (or personal life) is conducted. (This raises the question of what happens when two communities have two opposing conventions; I'll only touch on that briefly.)

I was reminded of this recently, when the famous "MorphoTrak Question 21" re-emerged. Although I work for MorphoTrak, I still have no idea where "MorphoTrak Question 21" is actually asked; it appears to be for some sort of civil purpose, rather than a criminal one. Basically, the question asks for the person's sex (gender), and provides three options - male, female, or both. If you want to see the question, @franciscanmom tweeted a picture.

If you have an unbelievably retentive memory, you'll recall that I blogged about MorphoTrak Question 21 in 2010, when someone else tweeted about it. Back then, I thought it was a criminal question, not a civil question, and made a point of examining field 2.024 of version 9.0 of the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification. (That's how I roll.) I just checked the current EBTS version, version 10.0, and the FBI still has seven options for sex (and yes, they call it sex, not gender).

But it's one thing to classify someone at the point of arrest, or at the time of a job application. One of @franciscanmom's friends, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, reports on a new law in Germany. He quotes from Der Spiegel:

Germany is set to become the first country in Europe to introduce a third, “indeterminate” gender designation on birth certificates. The European Union, which is attempting to coordinate anti-discrimination efforts across member states, is lagging behind on the issue.

The option of selecting “blank”, in addition to the standard choices of “male” or female” on birth certificates will become available in Germany from November 1. The legislative change allows parents to opt out of determining their baby’s gender, thereby allowing those born with characteristics of both sexes to choose whether to become male or female in later life. Under the new law, individuals can also opt to remain outside the gender binary altogether.

Remember how I said how laws could become problems with other communities? Well, at least in Germany, passport law hasn't caught up yet - it only recognizes two sexes.

I could go off on all sorts of personal tangents on this, but since this is a business blog, I'll constrain it to the business issues. Even if your company only does business in a single country, you may still have to deal with the ramifications of such issues. What if someone in a foreign country wants to work for you - and he plans to move here with his four wives? Or what if a new male employee wishes to ensure that both he and his husband will receive benefits? Or what if an employee refuses to work on Sundays? Or on Saturdays? (For extra credit, consider the issue of someone who champions an "English only" legal initiative, and then has problems celebrating the Tridentine Mass.)

And needless to say, if your company does business in multiple countries, it can really get complicated. (Hint: if you're a health insurance company, your contraceptive policies offered in China may kinda sorta have to differ from your contraceptive policies offered in Vatican City. And let's not even open the privacy Pandora's Box.)

Any company is bound to offend someone or another at some point. So how does a company deal with it?
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