The Equality bill 2010 provides protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation. There is now full legal equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transsexuals. The Trade Union Commission has been campaigning these objectives since first adopting gay right policy in 1985. The legal transformation has been particularly marked in the last 9 years.
The new legal rights have a significant impact on the workplace. The focus of workplace policies and practices can be found in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. These regulations introduce the first protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. For trans people, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 have been in operation for a long time, but the arrival of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, provides further protection that has a significance in work-place disputes. This may effect the negotiations of employees when dealing with:
- Harassment at work
- Parental and adoption leave
- Occupational pension schemes.
The European Union Directive has made it illegal for an employer to discriminate because of a worker’s sexuality. Sexual orientation is defined for the purposes of the law as the following –
- Orientation towards persons of the same sex
- Orientation towards persons of the opposite sex and
- Orientation towards persons of the same and the opposite sex
Protection also covers association, for example, someone who is not a lesbian but someone who has lesbian friends.
The regulation means that the employer cannot lawfully
- refuse to employ someone because of their sexual orientation.
- refuse training, or access to a promotion because of their sexual orientation
- deny benefits offered to heterosexual employees, i.e. insurance schemes, social events etc.
- give a poor reference due to their sexual orientation
There are important exceptions to the ban on discrimination. The employer may –
- deny a same sex partner access to a benefit if they specify that this benefit is restricted to married partners only.
- discriminate where there is a genuine occupational requirement, which is a “genuine, determining and proportionate” reason for requiring the employee to be a particular sexual orientation.
- discriminate if the employment if for the purposes of an organised religion. In particular sexual orientation is required to comply “with the doctrines of the religion”, or “to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers”
Having laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans works does not mean that the discrimination has disappeared. One of the most common problems faced by LGBT workers is harassment and abuse.
Potentially this could be addressed by the employer by providing an equality policy and by monitoring sexual orientation and gender. Monitoring however is a sensitive subject, before the 2003 law, unions advised that workers should not be monitored. Yet monitoring can be a useful way to confirm whether an organisation’s policies on race or gender equality are working. On the flip-side monitoring can just produce information which is stored, and perhaps reported, but with little results of a given issue. The act of monitoring may also get a reluctant response from the LGBT worker who is put in a vulnerable position of having to declare their identity.
This article has covered the legal rights of a LGBT worker and has briefly touched on how these rights should form the basis of creating a fair working environment. The main problem LGBT workers face is prejudice, which is equally culpable by employers, managers and fellow workers. For LGBT people, the biggest decision many will take is to “come out” as LGB or T. Yet, although tolerance has gone some way to improve, for many people “coming out” remains a challenge and is something that a LGBT may choose to hide in the workplace. Research estimates that at least half of LGB people are not out in the workplace. It is the hope that through company policies and the employer’s awareness of the changes in the law, that this will change and create a safer platform over time.
For additional information on the law and rights of LGBT workers please visit the Gender Trust –