Sexual Orientation Discrimination

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Health Assured team

18 August 2021

You have a duty of care to protect your employees’ health and wellbeing. More than just completing regular health & safety checks, that means you protecting people from discrimination.

Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine protected characteristics that someone can be discriminated against, including sexual orientation.

Treating an employee unfavourably, or failing to protect an employee from discrimination, can create a toxic work environment, result in employment tribunals claims, and costly fines.

In this guide, we’ll explain what sexual orientation discrimination is, how to spot the signs, and how to prevent it from happening in your workplace.

What is sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual orientation discrimination is when someone is treated differently because of their sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is a term used to describe a person’s pattern of sexual or romantic attraction to a particular gender.

There are several different sexual orientations. But many people fall into three categories: heterosexual (an attraction to the opposite sex), lesbian or gay (an attraction to the same sex) and bisexual (an attraction to either sex).

From a legal point of view, there are only three sexual orientations:

  • Attraction to persons of your own sex: known as gay, lesbian or homosexual.
  • Attraction to persons of the opposite sex: known as straight, or heterosexual.
  • Attraction to persons of either sex: known as bisexual.

However, sexual orientation is a much broader spectrum than that and discrimination against sexual orientation applies to all your employees.

Sexual orientation discrimination laws in the workplace

The Equality Act (2010) protects employees at work from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone due to their:

  • Sexual orientation.
  • Perceived sexual orientation.
  • Association with someone of a certain sexual orientation.

The act requires organisations to eliminate sexual orientation employment discrimination. It means that employers—and employees—must not abuse, disfavour, or treat others differently for any of the above reasons.

Employers must take steps to address all forms of discrimination.

Types of sexual orientation discrimination

There are four main types of discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination is no different. They are:

  • Direct sexual orientation discrimination: Where an individual is treated less favourably because of their sexual orientation when compared with someone else.
  • Indirect sexual orientation discrimination: When a workplace rule, policy or practice discriminates against a group of people of a different sexual orientation.
  • Sexual orientation harassment: Unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity, or creates an intimidating environment relating to someone else’s sexual orientation.
  • Sexual orientation victimisation: When someone is treated differently because they’ve complained about, or are believed to have complained about, sexual orientation discrimination.

Examples of sexual orientation discrimination

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation can come in many forms. Here are a few examples:

  • Two employees apply for a managerial role. Although, an employee who identifies as a lesbian is a better-suited fit for the role. However the hiring manager decides they 'just get on better’ with the other candidate. The manager reported that they felt awkward around the lesbian employee and wouldn’t know how to handle them.
  • A colleague—who identifies as bisexual—expresses interest in taking a course on relationship management in their one-to-one with their line manager. The manager says there’s no budget available for learning and development. However, the next week, a heterosexual worker in the team enquires about a training course. They are accepted for the course, with no questions asked.
  • The sales team sit down for a quick meeting. One colleague starts telling a story about them and their heterosexual partners weekend plans. Everyone engages and responds encouragingly. Later in the conversation, another colleague starts telling a story about a trip planned with their same-sex partner. Some of the other employees snigger and interrupt. They swiftly move on from the conversation and turn their backs, leaving the worker feeling extremely singled out and isolated.

Unconscious biases around sexual orientation discrimination can cause people to make unfair judgements, without always realising. It's important to educate your staff about this topic to avoid discrimination incidents in your workplace.

What are the effects of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace?

Not only is sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace illegal. But workplace harassment of any form can have detrimental effects on your employees mental and physical health.

Discrimination can result in stress, anxiety and low self-esteem for those on the receiving end of the abuse. The overall wellbeing of the workforce tends to take a hit too, with issues like absenteeism, low productivity and high turnover more likely to occur.

How to stop sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace

Here are our top solutions for eliminating sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace:

Provide diversity and inclusion training

Provide mandatory diversity and inclusion training to employees that explains some of the challenges people suffering from sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace face.

It may also be beneficial to provide resources and materials that promote equality in the workplace. Many organisations now have dedicated LGBT network groups that promote inclusivity and educate about LGBTQ+ topics.

Make sure everyone knows your reporting procedures

For people suffering from discrimination at work—raising a grievance can be a scary step to take. Make sure you have a clear procedure in place and that employees know who to come to about these kinds of issues.

Consider the current policies you have in place regarding discrimination and examine them to see if they are adequate.

Recruit a diverse workforce

All types of discrimination are illegal, including positive discrimination. But that doesn’t mean you can’t actively strive to diversify the culture at your workplace.

You can treat an applicant with a protected characteristic more favourably when recruiting or promoting, providing they’re equally qualified for the role. This is called positive action.

Having diversity as a goal when recruiting can aid you to improve your culture as a whole.

The more diverse a workforce, the more ideas, experience and knowledge your team have to offer.

Lead by example

Communicating your zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination in the workplace is a good place to start. From company meetings to email communications, highlighting these issues can bring them to the forefront of your employees’ minds and truly make an impact.

Let your LGBTQ+ workers know that they are supported, valued and protected in your workforce.

Get help from Health Assured with sexual orientation discrimination

It’s your responsibility to protect your employees’ wellbeing at work. If you don’t, you could face legal consequences, have to pay heavy fines and see good employees leave.

Our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can provide counselling for your staff when they feel like they need to reach out for help. Our Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors.

Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0352 for help on promoting health and wellbeing at work.

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