Sexual Orientation Discrimination at Work

Carol Smith

Carol Smith


04 Jul 2019


Although there have been huge strides in equality in the past few years, discrimination in the workplace is far from over.

A report from the LGBT+ charity Stonewall last year found that more than a third of LGBT staff (35%) hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination.

What can you do to combat such equality issues in your workplace?


Sexual orientation employment discrimination

There are a number of things you can do to tackle prejudice.

But first, let’s define sexual orientation discrimination. If you treat an employee or colleague unfairly because of their sexuality or give preferential treatment to people of a certain sexual orientation, that is discrimination.

To fully understand this, it’s helpful to define what we mean by ‘sexuality.’ Sexual orientation is when you are sexually attracted to:

  • Your sex (gay and lesbian people).
  • The opposite sex (heterosexual people).
  • The same and the opposite sex. (bisexual people).

Why is this important? Because it highlights that victims of sexual orientation discrimination can be of any sexuality and the perpetrator can be of any sexual orientation too.


Types of discrimination

Discrimination against sexual orientation can take many forms. These include:

  • Direct discrimination is the most obvious, but not necessarily the most common. This is an abusive action or comment targeted at someone as a result of their sexuality. Referring back to the Stonewall report, almost one in five LGBT staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues due to their LGBT status.
  • Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy, practice, procedure or rule applying to all employees disadvantages someone of a particular sexual orientation. A common example of this is a policy for maternity or paternity leave that’s not inclusive of same-sex couples.
  • Harassment is any unwanted conduct that violates an individual’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them.

And finally, victimisation.

What this means is a staff member suffers a disadvantage, damage, harm, or loss as they’ve made a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination (or have supported/backed-up a claim).


Effects of sexual orientation discrimination

If an employee experiences this kind of treatment in the workplace, they are more likely to have higher levels of psychological distress and health-related problems.

This translates into less job satisfaction, performance issues, higher rates of absenteeism and poor turnover rate.

Conversely, making a visible effort to tackle bias, inequality and discrimination boosts work morale substantially, improves company reputation, and has a positive impact on performance.

Discrimination can also have a devastating effect on your business.

A claim can severely damage your company’s reputation, but it can also cost you if it escalates to tribunal proceedings.

There is no limit on the compensation you have to pay out for a successful discrimination claim, although for severe cases, you can be looking at £35,000 and up.

This isn’t including any unpaid wages, unpaid holiday pay, notice pay, redundancy pay, and a basic award for unfair dismissal (if applicable).

So it’s also in your financial interest to avoid discrimination at all costs.


How to stop sexual orientation discrimination

There are a number of steps you can take:

  • Develop policies that clearly outline a zero-tolerance approach on discrimination, bullying and harassment of LGBT staff.
  • Don’t just create an equality policy- actively communicate it. Ensure it’s clear and that everyone is aware of it.
  • Implement diversity and inclusion training with all staff.
  • Ensure line managers are appropriately trained to deal with sexual orientation discrimination and abuse.
  • Recruit and promote diverse candidates. Obviously, you should always pick the best person for the job, but including a diverse group of candidates from the outset means equal opportunities for all.

For employees suffering from discrimination or struggling with matters relating to sexuality or gender identity, speaking to an employer can be daunting.

That’s why it’s useful to have an Employee Assistance Programme available to provide confidential advice from mental health experts.


Need further guidance?

If you want assistance drafting an equality policy, running a diversity training programme, or just have an HR issue, speak to a Croner expert today on 0808 145 3380.

About the Author

Carol Smith

Carol joined Croner in 2001 as an Employment Consultant advising a wide range of clients on all aspects of Employment Law and HR practice. She demonstrates particular expertise in complex disciplinary, grievance matters and reorganisation / redundancy.


Carol Smith

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