Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation is defined 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 Act applies to goods and services and all employment and vocational training and includes recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training. The Act make it unlawful on the grounds of sexual orientation to:
- Discriminate directly against anyone and to treat them less favourably than others because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation;
- Discriminate indirectly - to apply a criterion, provision or practice which disadvantages people of a particular sexual orientation, unless it can be objectively justified;
- Subject someone to harassment - harassment is unwanted conduct that violates a person's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment;
- Victimise someone because they have made or intend to make a compliant or allegation in relation to a complaint of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Employers should ensure that sexual orientation is included in their Equality Policy and have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:
- recruitment and selection
- determining pay
- training and development
- selection for promotion
- discipline and grievances
- countering bullying and harassment.
Employers should also consider adding all forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying to their disciplinary and grievance rules.
Questions and answers
Does the Equality Act cover all workers?
The Equality Act applies to all workers, including office holders, police, barristers, partners in a business and members of the Armed forces. The Act covers anyone who applies to an organisation for work, or who already works for the organisation, whether directly employed or working under other kinds of contracts. Organisations will also be responsible for someone else on their premises, for example someone from a different organisation repairing a piece of equipment.
Do organisations have to collect data on sexual orientation?
The Act does not require organisations to collect data. Some organisations may include sexual orientation in their equality monitoring process and staff should be told why the organisation wishes to collect this data. The organisation should make it clear to staff what they intend to do with the data collected and assure them of its confidentiality and anonymity. Staff should be informed that they are under no obligation to give such information.
What happens if a member of staff makes a complaint of harassment which involves an inaccurate perception of their sexual orientation?
Any harassment based on sexual orientation is covered by the Equality Act. If a worker is harassed by their colleagues or manager because of an inaccurate suspicion or speculation about their sexual orientation they may have grounds to complain to an employment tribunal if their employer fails to deal with the matter in a timely and proper manner.
From 29th July 2013 all Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeal Tribunals will be liable to pay a fee or an application for fee remission. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.
What happens if on the grounds of religion some staff refuse to work with gay or lesbian colleagues?
Some religions do have strong views concerning sexual orientation, but everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. Workers do not have to be friends but employers can insist that they treat each other professionally.
Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions
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