Pride Month – an update on LGBTQ+ rights to work


June is Pride month and the LGBTQ+ community is celebrating with a series of events. It’s a fun time, but it’s also a protest – there are still battles to be fought, particularly when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable because of their sexual orientation whether they’re in a single-sex relationship, or are trans gender or gender fluid. Yet today there are still some workplaces where being gay can lead to discrimination, physical and verbal abuse, and even dismissal. To mark Pride month, we look at the legal rights for LGBTQ+  workers under current legislation:

The Equality Act 2010

Since 2010 it has been against the law to discriminate against a job candidate, employee or trainee based on their sexual orientation. So, an employer refusing to promote someone based purely on the fact that they’re gay or trans is illegal, and the employer can (and should) be taken to court.

Discrimination covers four different types of treatment:

  1. Direct discrimination: when someone is treated ‘less favourably’ because of their sexual orientation, whether that’s their actual orientation, their perceived orientation, or the sexual orientation of someone they associate with (known as direct discrimination by association).
  2. Indirect discrimination: This usually applies to company policy that is intended to apply equally to everyone but may, in fact, discriminate against gay or trans people, such as maternity leave for people in same-sex couples, or bathroom policies.
  3. Harassment: This is defined as unwanted conduct that is deliberately designed to intimidate, humiliate or create a hostile environment for gay or trans people.
  4. Victimisation: If an employee suffers what is legally known as a ‘detriment’ (disadvantage, damage, harm or loss) as a result of the actions of their employer then they can pursue a case for victimisation, for example, when a LGBTQ+ worker has been passed over for promotion based solely on their sexual orientation.

The employer’s duties

To ensure that LGBTQ+ workers are treated fairly and equally, employers must have workplace policies that avoid any kind of discrimination. These should apply not just to the working environment, but to recruitment, training, promotion, pay levels, and discipline/grievance processes. In fact, from the moment an employee walks through the door to the moment they leave at the end of the day, it is up to the employer to ensure the workplace is one where discrimination and harassment are eliminated completely, regardless of the sexual orientation of their workers, contractors, or visitors.

What constitutes harassment?

Anything from an inappropriate ‘joke’ to verbal or physical abuse based purely on the sexual orientation of the victim is classed as harassment. That also includes written content, so a meme or social media joke that targets gay people and shared via an internal email system, for example, would constitute harassment.

It’s important that employers take complaints of harassment seriously. Passing it off as ‘just a bit of workplace banter’ is unacceptable and no excuse for abusive behaviour of any kind. If a complaint is put in, then the employer has a legal duty to investigate it and respond.

Is it really that bad?

For over 40 years, the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s down to the employer and other employees to ensure that a hostile, toxic environment is eliminated, and that everyone is treated fairly and equally. We’ve come a long way in the last few decades, but there is still room for improvement in every workplace. The law is intended to make it easier and less intimidating for LGBTQ+ workers to challenge harassment, but it’s up to everyone to ensure that everyone is made to feel worthwhile, welcomed, and valued in the workplace, regardless of their sexual orientation.

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against in your workplace based on your gender or sexuality, please seek advice from our specialist employment lawyers.

Julie Taylor

Employment Law

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