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Homophobia in the workplace

Accountancy firm Ernst & Young this month topped lesbian, gay and bisexual rights group Stonewall's 2012 top 100 gay-friendly employers list, with the Home Office coming second. With the city and public sector now embracing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, is homophobia in the workplace rapidly becoming a thing of the past?

Although discrimination at work on the grounds of sexual orientation didn't become illegal in the UK until 2003, progress to protect the rights of the gay community since then has been swift. Most major companies and public sector organisations now incorporate sexual orientation into their non-discrimination policies and provide equality and diversity training to staff. Many organisations also have dedicated teams to deal specifically with LGBT discrimination issues.

Nevertheless, although studies show that attitudes towards homosexuality are becoming more tolerant, workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation continues. A total of 640 tribunal claims on the grounds of sexual orientation were accepted in the 12 months to April, 2011, and several high-profile legal cases have shown that it is far from being a thing of the past. Employment tribunals can award unlimited compensation to people who face discrimination at work as defined by the Equality Act 2010 - including on the grounds of their sexuality.

It's important for employers to consider whether their policies and procedures respect the sensitivity of an individual's sexual orientation and to understand the importance of maintaining a high level of confidentiality around the sexual orientation of their employees. The Acas equality and diversity service can look at your current policies and practices, recommend improvements, help put them in place and provide training. Acas also offers training in how to deal with homophobic bullying and harassment at work.

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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