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Sexual orientation discrimination: a guide for employers

  1. Did you know?
  2. What is sexual orientation discrimination?
  3. Identifying sexual orientation discrimination at work
  4. How to prevent sexual orientation discrimination at work
  5. Expert guidance on training staff
  6. How to make recruitment fairer
  7. Supporting people who 'come out' at work
  8. Next steps

In 2010, the Equality Act was introduced to offer people greater protection from discrimination and create fairer workplaces. Since this date, employers have been obliged by law to take steps to promote fairness at work, improve equal job opportunities and prevent discrimination.

At Acas, we appreciate that this is a complex issue and offer training, support and guidance to help organisations comply with law. Below are just a few of the ways we can help you to understand, identify and tackle sexual orientation discrimination at work.


Did you know?

  • A quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff say they have personally experienced bullying or poor treatment from colleagues in the last five years as a result of their sexual orientation. 
  • One in five (19 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual employees have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years.
  • One in eight (13 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual employees would not feel confident reporting homophobic harassment in their workplace.

What is sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual orientation can be taken to mean any of the following:

  • a person's sexual orientation towards persons of the same-sex (lesbians and gay men)
  • a person's sexual orientation towards persons of the opposite sex (heterosexual)
  • a person's sexual orientation towards persons of either sex (bisexual).

A person's sexual orientation, like their age, gender or race is considered to be a protected characteristic. And in line with the 2010 Equality Act, it is against the law to discriminate against someone, or treat them less favourably, because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of someone they associate with.

Watch our video about protected characteristics:

Download our guide and find out more:

pdf icon Equality and discrimination: understand the basics [415kb]

pdf icon Sexual orientation discrimination: key points for the workplace [301kb]


Identifying sexual orientation discrimination at work

Our research shows that employees facing sexual orientation discrimination may experience:

  • bullying
  • verbal or physical abuse
  • exclusion from workplace conversations
  • threats
  • nicknames and name calling
  • unfair dismissal
  • sexual harassment.

When it comes to understanding workplace discrimination, we recommend that employers consider four key areas. While the definition for each area is complex, they can be broadly summarised as follows:        

Direct discrimination

This could mean treating Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual employees or job applicants less favourably, for example, by deciding not to employ them, denying them promotion or refusing to provide them with training.

Indirect discrimination

If you have policies, or employment rules that disadvantage people of a certain sexual orientation, eg offering employee benefits that exclude same-sex couples, these may inadvertently indirectly discriminate.

Harassment

This can be defined as 'unwanted conduct' of a sexual nature or related to sexual orientation that makes the workplace feel hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive. This could include bullying, nicknames, gossip or inappropriate questions.

Victimisation

This relates to the detrimental treatment handed out to people who have complained or intend to complain about discrimination and harassment. It could mean for example that someone is labelled a 'troublemaker' and excluded from workplace activities or even promotion.

Find out more about the different kinds of workplace discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination

Or download our guide

pdf icon Sexual orientation discrimination: key points for the workplace [301kb] 


How to prevent sexual orientation discrimination at work

While discrimination at work can occur for many reasons, there are measures employers can take to help prevent it.

We recommend organisations start by considering the three following steps:

Step 1: Understand where discrimination can occur.

To avoid inadvertent discrimination, we recommend that employers start by taking a closer look at different areas of work e.g. how employees are recruited, employment rules and contracts, workplace promotions, training, and dismissal procedures, We can also help to audit your organisation's culture and suggest expert ways to improve your processes and procedures.

Discover more about the ways Acas can help:

Equality and diversity: how Acas can help

Step 2: Create an equality policy

We can offer guidance on developing a practical policy that applies to all members of staff. This can help to explain what sexual orientation discrimination is, how it can happen and what behaviour and actions are unacceptable. It may also outline the steps to take when discrimination is reported.

Download a free word icon Equality policy template [37kb].

Find out more about pdf icon Equality and discrimination: understand the basics [415kb].

Step 3: Get help to monitor the policy

Once your policy is in place, we can help you measure its effectiveness and perform impact assessments to help you continually review and improve your procedures.

Find out more

Equality and diversity: how Acas can help


Expert guidance on training staff

Your existing employees play an important role in helping to prevent discrimination, and training can help to ensure every member of the team understands their roles and responsibilities. Encouraging greater awareness also provides other business benefits, including:

  1. Helping to reduce the likelihood of complaints, claims and disciplinary action
  2. Improving team spirit by making all employees feel included and motivated
  3. Enhancing your reputation as an employer and improving your ability to attract, motivate and retain staff

We offer a series of training courses to help raise staff awareness and equip staff, line managers and executives to spot the signs of sexual orientation discrimination.

These courses include an overview of the current law, how it applies to everyday situations and how to deal with incidences of discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Discover more about Acas equality and diversity training:

Equality and diversity: how Acas can help

View our practical training courses on preventing discrimination


 How to make recruitment fairer

When advertising for new employees, it is important for employers not to unknowingly indirectly discriminate against LGB candidates. For example, when recruiting:

  • avoid specifying a particular sexual orientation in a job description, apart from in rare exceptions set out in law
  • be clear on the skills, experience and qualifications required
  • underline your organisation's commitment to equal opportunities
  • make sure job applications only ask for information relevant to the vacancy.

For further details on avoiding discrimination when recruiting, please download our pdf icon Recruiting staff guide [408kb].


Supporting people who 'come out' at work

When an employee chooses to tell their colleagues about their sexual orientation this is known as 'coming out'. Employers can offer support in a number of ways:

  • creating a diversity champion who can act as visible point of contact for employees
  • training line managers to react positively and provide support
  • respecting the dignity of the person 'coming out' and their wishes regarding privacy and who is told
  • educating staff about harassment and the company policies on sexual orientation discrimination.

Download our guide pdf icon Sexual orientation discrimination: key points for the workplace [301kb].


Learn more about Sexual orientation discrimination.

Download our guide pdf icon Sexual orientation discrimination: key points for the workplace [301kb].

Take an equality and diversity training course


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