It's against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your actual or supposed sexual orientation, or your association with people of a particular sexual orientation.
The Equality Act 2010 defines sexual orientation as a sexual orientation towards persons of:
This happens when you are treated less favourably than another worker on the grounds of your sexual orientation, when compared with another worker of a different sexual orientation, but who otherwise shares the same or similar (but not materially different), circumstances as you (known as a 'comparator').
The comparator's circumstances do not need to be identical to yours (in terms of the type of job, job level, job experience and seniority, etc.), but must not be wholly dissimilar. If you cannot find a suitable comparator, then a 'hypothetical comparator' can be used instead, who would be deemed to have the same employment as you (such as your title, role, level, etc.). An Employment Tribunal has the power to decide the particular circumstances of a hypothetical comparator, (such as their personality).
The law also extends to protecting you if your employer treats you less favourably based on:
Your employer can't defend against a claim of direct sexual orientation discrimination by justifying it (arguing that their actions were a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim). There is, however, an exception whereby direct discrimination is allowed in circumstances where it is required in order to comply with another law or a genuine occupational requirement applies to the job.
Usually, the only available defence to a direct discrimination claim is proving that there was no discrimination.
This is where formal or informal working practices, provisions or criteria that your employer applies equally to all workers, places workers with your sexual orientation at a particular disadvantage when compared with workers of a different sexual orientation. You must also actually suffer that particular disadvantage.
For example, an employer introduces a policy stating only employees who are biological parents may go on a child-care training course. That policy may result in homosexual employees suffering a disadvantage when compared to heterosexual employees, as homosexuals are less likely to have given birth to or biologically fathered children, but may have adopted them. In this case, if you are homosexual and would have been eligible to go on the training course had it not been for that policy, you might have a claim for unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination.
Your employer could be held liable regardless of whether or not they intended to discriminate against you.
Your employer can defend against indirect discrimination claims by justifying the use of the unlawful practice, provisions or criteria, if it can show that its application is a proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim.
Harassment is unwanted conduct towards a worker by an employer, another worker or a third party (such as customers), because of that worker's actual or perceived sexual orientation, or association with someone who is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. This applies to any conduct that violates a worker's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment, even if it was not intended as such.
Workers who are not the subject of the unwanted conduct will also be able to make harassment claims for behaviour that they find offensive, even if they do not have a protected characteristic.
Furthermore, the unwanted conduct will be harassment even where it was not intended to be harassing. If it is reasonable to regard the unwanted conduct as having a harassing effect, it may be unlawful.
For example, if you attended a public school, it will be unlawful for someone to harass you by incorrectly assuming that you are therefore homosexual.
Note that you will not be protected if you are over sensitive and unreasonably take offence to an innocent comment.
An employer also has a duty to protect a worker from any harassment by a third party, such as from a client or customer, which they may be subjected to in the course of their employment. The employer must take reasonably practicable steps to prevent such harassment, but will not be liable for conduct that they are unaware of. The employer can only be held liable if the worker has been subjected to such harassment on at least two other occasions. It need not be the same person causing the harassment on each occasion.
Employers will be liable for any acts of harassment undertaken by their employees in the course of their employment – whether they knew about it or not – if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent it. 'In the course of employment' means 'done to you whilst at work' or 'done to you during work time'. Employers can't defend a claim of harassment by showing that they did not authorise it or on the grounds that the actions were reasonable or warranted.
An employer can, however, escape liability for harassment, if it took reasonably practicable steps to prevent it.
Victimisation happens when you are treated less favourably because:
For example, you might have been subjected to victimisation if, because you took any of the above actions, you are prevented from going on training courses; or unfair disciplinary action is taken against you; or you are excluded from company social events.
Protection against sexual orientation discrimination applies to employees, contract workers, office holders, partners of firms and people using employment agencies or related careers guidance services.
There are a few exceptional circumstances where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation will not be regarded as unlawful. Some of these are:
If an employer reasonably thinks that a group of its workers who share a protected characteristic (race, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, disability or religion or belief) either...
Employers are allowed to provide special training to members of the group. They can also encourage members of the group to apply to do particular work or fill posts (for example, by saying that applications from them will be particularly welcome).
This does not mean that employers can discriminate in favour of the members of the group when it comes to choosing people to do the work or fill the posts, unless they meet the circumstances described below under 'Positive action in recruitment and for promotions', as that could be unlawful discrimination.
Positive action is not the same as 'positive discrimination', which is where members of a particular group who have a protected characteristic are treated more favourably regardless of the circumstances.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it lawful for employers to take positive action when recruiting and making internal promotions in order to overcome a disadvantage connected with a protected characteristic or where the inclusion of people with the protected characteristic in a particular activity is disproportionately low. Employers will be able take positive action where all of the following apply:
Further guidance on positive action can be obtained from the.
Positive discrimination is unlawful except if used when recruiting or promoting individuals in the limited circumstances described above.
If you think you've been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation you can talk to:
If you're unhappy with the outcome of your appeal, you can, in certain circumstances, apply to an Employment Tribunal. You'll need to do this within three months of the act of discrimination taking place. If the discrimination extends over a period, you must bring your claim to an Employment Tribunal within 3 months from the end of that period. You should, however, obtain legal advice before taking your claim to an Employment Tribunal.
See thefor employers and employees in respect of sexual orientation and the workplace. More information is also available at the .