LGBTQ+ Employment Law: The Equality Act in the workplace

Tue 28th Jun 2022

As we near the end of Pride month in the UK, Coodes’ Philip Sayers explains how LGBTQ+ employment law means you are legally protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable or be treated unfairly in their place of work. Sadly, this can sometimes be the case for many LGBTQ+ people whether they have mentioned their sexuality or not.

As an employer, you can prevent discrimination and create space for equal opportunities – it is your responsibility to adhere to employment law when it comes to discrimination. Of course, this is not only limited to people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet, the number of cases of this type of discrimination is increasing year on year.

Equality Act 2010

In a more general sense, the Equality Act 2010 protects people from being discriminated against. Age, disability, race, religion, sex and more are all protected. As for the setting, this can apply to anything from going to the GP to shopping at the supermarket.

Discrimination counts whether it’s direct or indirect and encompasses harassment and victimisation. When discrimination is direct that means one person is being treated unfairly in comparison to another. Indirect discrimination describes a policy put into place that excludes a particular group.

In the Equality Act 2010, the definition of harassment says that you cannot be treated in a way that “violates your dignity, or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.” Victimisation means people cannot be treated unfairly for reporting discrimination under the Equality Act. This includes people who are supporting another person for coming forward.

The Discrimination Act for LGBTQ+ employees

The Equality Act also applies to people of all sexual orientations (or sexualities) within the workplace. It aims to prevent workplace discrimination and create equal opportunities for LGBTQ+ people.

The Act doesn’t just apply to people’s sexual orientations. It also applies to someone thinking you have a particular sexual orientation, or you’re connected to someone who does. You’re also not allowed to be discriminated against for how you choose to express your sexual orientation. This could either be visually or through your lifestyle, for example.

The Equality Act 2010 states that employees should be protected from applying to the day they leave the company. Remember, discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be considered unlawful. As an employer, you should be working towards creating an environment that is inclusive and safe for everyone.

The consequences of LGBTQ+ discrimination

The case of Allen v Paradigm Precision Burnley Ltd and Carl Wheeler in 2020 is a prime example. Engineer Mr Allen was due to be promoted at his job. Around this time, he also asked about taking adoption leave as he and his partner wanted to adopt a child. The company denied his request. They reasoned that they couldn’t have a manager absent for a year’s worth of parental leave.

Subsequently, after revealing he was gay to the HR director, his sexual orientation became known to other members of staff. He was discriminated against and harassed in the form of homophobic comments and intrusive questions.

Allen resigned and claimed against his employer. He was successful in:

  • Constructive unfair dismissal
  • Direct sexual orientation discrimination
  • Harassment relating to sexual orientation
  • Victimisation
  • Detrimental treatment for his adoption leave request

He was awarded £174,645 for the way he was treated after his employer found out he was gay.

Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar Land Rover had a case centering around a gender-fluid employee who had worked there for over 20 years. Having previously presented as male, they faced discrimination at work upon identifying as gender-fluid. They have since received £180,000 in compensation.

Employment tribunal fees were abolished in 2017. So, the fee no longer acts as a barrier for those looking to pursue a discrimination case. This has no doubt contributed to the number of cases rising every year. So, what is the best practice to comply with laws and prevent discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees?

What is the best practice to comply with discrimination laws?

Appropriate equal opportunities training is the best way to comply with the laws regarding discrimination in the workplace. Disciplinary action should then take place afterwards where appropriate.

The capacity and resources for this type of training will vary depending on the size of your company. However, it’s best to implement something sooner rather than later. If a member of staff were to make a harassment claim, there is a statutory defence an employer can run. That is, they can say they have done all they can to prevent discrimination.

This training should show staff that they need to identify certain behaviours. What could be intended as banter could feel like discrimination or harassment to the recipient.

There are other measures that companies should take in terms of continually renewing policies and procedures. Go back to initial notices set out in your employee handbook or job descriptions, for example. Seek advice on how to update these before implementing them to ensure they’re inclusive. Renew them regularly to keep up to date with rights and developments within the LGBTQ+ community. Make sure the team are trained to always adhere to these policies.

Above all, consider the importance of treating all staff with the same equal opportunities and respect as each other. Support your LGBTQ+ staff as much as you can and ensure relations within the team are kept professional. This way, they can feel safe and included when they come to work.

Workplace discrimination

Good employment practice sees employers getting the best out of their team. It shouldn’t matter who they are, where they’re from, who they love and so on. To ensure you are compliant with regards to the Equality Act, Coodes can help.

Coodes specialises in employment law and discrimination. We can review your HR processes and provide training, give advice on complaints or allegations, and represent you in tribunal proceedings.

Get in touch today to see how we can help you.

Tue 28th Jun 2022

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