LGBT+ Rights in the Workplace

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

This month marks LGBT+ History Month, an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

Despite great strides being made over the past 20 years to banish discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people, it unfortunately remains very much a live issue in many workplaces today.

Statistics show that more than a third of LGBT+ staff do not feel comfortable enough to disclose their sexuality for fear of bullying or discrimination and many LGBT+ staff are the target of negative comments or conduct due to their sexuality or gender orientation.

The Equality Act 2010

Sexual orientation and gender reassignment are listed as two separate ‘protected characteristics’ within the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against workers or job applicants because of their sexual orientation or gender reassignment. Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favourably than others due to their sexuality, gender identity or perceived sexual orientation.

Types of Discrimination

LGBT+ workers are protected from all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including recruitment, training, promotion and detrimental treatment or dismissal because of sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

There are four different types of discrimination prohibited by the Equality Act 2020:

  • Direct discrimination – LGBT+ workers are protected from less favourable treatment because of their protected characteristic including perceived discrimination and discrimination by association.
  • Indirect discrimination – LGBT+ workers are protected from indirect discrimination, where a policy, practice or procedure is applied which puts them at a disadvantage because of their protected characteristic.
  • Harassment – LGBT+ workers are protected from harassment, which is unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating a hostile or degrading environment for that person. This includes verbal or physical abuse, ‘banter’, jokes and offensive comments.
  • Victimisation – LGBT+ workers are protected from victimisation, which occurs when someone is treated less favourably because they have made a discrimination complaint or asserted their rights under the Act.

Examples of LGBT+ Discrimination in the workplace include:

  • Use of derogatory language, insults and threats
  • Creating an intimidating and hostile environment
  • Asking intrusive questions about a person’s sexual orientation
  • Refusal of colleagues to work with someone because of their sexual orientation
  • Employers showing preferential treatment, such as promotions, based on sexual orientation

A worker who is treated less favourably, or dismissed, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the right to bring a claim against their employer in the employment tribunal. In a successful claim, the tribunal has the power to award uncapped compensation for ‘injury to feelings’ as well as financial losses. The tribunal may also issue a recommendation for the employer to obviate or reduce the adverse effect of the discrimination.

If an employer can demonstrate that it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination taking place, this will often serve as a defence to allegations of discrimination.

As part of a coherent diversity, inclusion and employee engagement strategy, employers should undertake thorough reviews of policies and working practices to remove unfair discrimination and promote and celebrate their diverse workforces.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.