Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace: know your rights

Wed 12th Jun 2019

Philip Sayers, Employment lawyer at Coodes Solicitors, explains the laws surrounding workplace discrimination and sexual orientation during Pride month.

A recent report from the charity Stonewall, based on YouGov research with 3,213 LGBT employees, revealed troubling discrimination in Britain’s workplaces.

It found more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden or disguised their sexuality at work for fear of discrimination and almost one in five (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the past year because they are LGBT.

So whatever your sexual orientation, do you know your rights regarding workplace discrimination?

What does the law say about sexual orientation discrimination at work?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against job seekers, trainees and employees, because of their sexual orientation. For example, an employer not promoting an employee purely because they are gay is likely to be classed as discrimination.

The Act defines Sexual orientation as:

  • Orientation towards people of the same sex (lesbians and gay men)
  • Orientation towards people of the opposite sex (heterosexual)
  • Orientation towards people of the same sex and the opposite sex (bisexual).

The law applies equally whether someone is a lesbian, gay man, heterosexual or bisexual.

How sexual orientation discrimination can happen

Broadly speaking, there are four main types of sexual orientation discrimination – direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

Direct discrimination involves treating someone less favourably because of their sexual orientation, perceived or otherwise.

Indirect discrimination occurs when people of a particular sexual orientation are disadvantaged because of a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule which applies to all employees.

Harassment is when an individual’s dignity is violated because of conduct related to sexual orientation, or when an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment is created.

Victimisation is when an employee is disadvantaged in some way, or suffers damage, harm or loss because, for example, they have made or supported a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination.

When it can happen

There are several key areas of employment where sexual orientation discrimination can happen. These include recruitment; pay, terms and conditions of employment; promotion, training and dismissal.

As an employer, it’s important to make sure you have policies in places which are designed to prevent sexual orientation discrimination in all these areas, and help to create an inclusive workplace for all. To learn more about best practice in this area, Acas has some excellent information.

How should I raise a discrimination complaint?

If you feel you have been discriminated against, it is often best to talk to your employer first to try and sort out the matter informally or raise a grievance if informal resolution is not appropriate or is not successful. If the issue cannot be resolved in this way, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. If you would like advice on this, Coodes can help.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or

Wed 12th Jun 2019

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