Discrimination in the Workplace: An Employers Guide

by | Dec 10 2020 | Discrimination, Employment Disputes

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Discrimination in The Workplace | Read Time 8-10 Minutes. 

For employers and employees alike keeping your place of work balanced and inclusive can be tricky.

You may have internal rifts between staff members, difficulties regarding staff duties or staff behaviour. However, an employer must always have a duty of care towards their staff. An absolute, basic requirement, is making sure that discrimination is never an issue.

“34% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the UK choose not to disclose their sexuality at work.”

The Guardian

For LGBT people, in particular, hiding your sexual orientation from your employer is commonplace. However,  you should never have to work for a place that requires you to change your personality. A fair employer should be able to support you and treat you justly, regardless of sexual orientation. Yet so many LGBT individuals chose to hide their sexuality out of fear of harassment, discrimination or professional neglect.

LGBT Lawyers a man and woman discussing discrimination in the workplace

what does LGBT discrimination in the workplace look like?

In our hetero-normative society, disclosing your sexuality to an employer is a scary thing to do. No one should have to hide their sexuality out of fear of homophobia, harassment, or unfair treatment. 

Compared to other forms of discrimination in the workplace, claims for sexual orientation discrimination are less reported at employment tribunals. Many people normalise LGBT discrimination in the workplace, such as using sexually derogatory names in casual passing.

Sexual orientation is one of the 9 protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. As a protected characteristic, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sexuality. 

” discrimination is unwanted conduct which violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

A report by the Stonewall charity revealed that approximately 1 in 5 LGBT employees were targets of unfair or negative comments because of their sexual orientation. Examples of LGBT discrimination in the workplace could be:

  • Using mocking language to belittle someone
  • Using derogatory language
  • Harassment, insults and threats
  • Creating a negative or uninviting environment
  • Refusing to work with someone because of their sexuality
Rights and responsibilities

On December 1 2003, laws came into effect in the UK which make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation.

This means that, legally, an employer can’t discriminate, victimise, harass or unfairly treat any of their employees based on their sexuality. This also means that the employer must protect their employees against harassment or bullying. An employer also cannot legally give an employee a bad reference, based on their characteristics, once the contract has ended.

“The rules made under the Equality Act 2010 protect employees from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity even if that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not known or if that person is wrongly perceived to be lesbian, gay, bi or trans.”

As an employer, you have a responsibility to provide your employees with a safe work environment, free from discrimination and harassment. Equal opportunities in the workplace are an important way to demonstrate to your employees that you are promoting equality.

The Equality commission in the UK recommends that employers implement a variety of policies for their staff. These include (among others):

  • An equal pay policy
  • An equal opportunities policy
  • A harassment policy and procedures
  • a recruitment and selection policy and procedure

Although each business varies from the other, implementing basic equality policies is a standard requirement. It’s important to remember that you may be held accountable for the discriminatory behaviour of employees if you cannot show that you have equality policies.


what can my business do to prevent discrimination in the workplace?

So what can businesses do to help eradicate discrimination in their workplace?

Ensure your policies are fully inclusive for LGBT employees

Luckily, businesses across the UK are rapidly becoming more welcoming of the LGBT community. As an employer, you have a duty of responsibility to ensure that your LGBT staff are comfortable. While an employer may not necessarily understand the LGBT community, it’s important to stay open minded and make sure that everyone has completely equal opportunities.

We can start with straight employers becoming allies of the LGBT community, and empowering LGBT employees despite not actively being part of the community. 

Encourage staff to speak out and engage with all staff members

If you can see discrimination against LGBT, or anyone for that matter, you might want to look at the behaviour and motivation behind it. You should be able to challenge the discriminatory behviour in a composed way to get to the bottom of the issue.

Having regular group meetings with staff to discuss policies and have an open, honest discussion about equality and diversity will be really beneficial in the future. You may also want to consider implementing an equality action plan and a monitoring plan to make sure that the policies are maintained in the future.

Keep the ball rolling

The Stonewall Charity recently released a list of the top 100 employers of 2020 for LGBT inclusion in the workplace. The list ranges from private to public sector and includes a variety of industries, whilst also rating the businesses whose policies are most inclusive for the LGBT community

With so many businesses now openly promoting their inclusivity and equality, those who don’t will be swiftly left behind. It’s fantastic to see so many businesses now being praised for their treatment of LGBT staff members.

Education is the key

Whatever option you choose to re-vamp the environment in your business, the outcome can only be positive. Educating staff on equality, diversity and inclusivity will improve team morale and can ensure that staff feel safe and included.

By creating a workplace that is inclusive and progressive, you will show current and future employees that you are serious about diversity and equality in your atmosphere. The aim is to make anyone in any professional environment feel comfortable enough to be themselves around their employer and colleagues, without having to hide their characteristics.

The most efficient way to understand all areas of LGBT life, is to educated people. Simple methods such as having open, honest talks amongst staff members can be really important, for both equality and morale. It will help your employees and your business in turn; although change may not come over night, it certainly will in the future.


the fight continues

The fight for LGBT equality is a constant battle. Like so many areas of LGBT and what it means to be LGBT, equality comes from communication and understanding. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have conversations with people about all manner of equality areas, whether it be race, gender, age or sexuality. Progression comes from education and understanding. If you have any more questions, you can take a look at our discrimination page or get in contact with us today to be connected to one of our partner lawyers.

So if you’re an employer or an employee, don’t be afraid to be curious and to have open and honest conversations with your team and how they feel about equality and diversity.


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