A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

It is against the law for your employer to discriminate against, victimise or harass you because of your sexual orientation, or your perceived sexual orientation. Find out about your employment law rights and what to do if you suffer sexual orientation discrimination.

Employment law protection from sexual orientation discrimination

You are protected against sexual orientation discrimination under employment law if:

  • you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual
  • people think you are gay, lesbian or heterosexual when you are not
  • you have gay friends or visit gay clubs

Employment law protection against sexual orientation discrimination starts when you apply for a job and continues through your employment. Sexual orientation discrimination employment law protection covers:

  • recruitment
  • terms and conditions of employment (including benefits such as pensions)
  • pay
  • employment status (eg if you are a worker or an employee)
  • training
  • promotion and transfer opportunities
  • redundancy
  • dismissal

Civil partnerships

If you are a gay or lesbian same-sex couple in a civil partnership you are entitled to the same benefits as a married person (for example, survivors’ benefits under a company pension scheme) if the benefits have been in place since 5 December 2005 (when the Civil Partnership Act came into force).

If your employer gives benefits to opposite sex, unmarried partners of its employees (eg the employees opposite sex partner is able to drive the company car), refusing the same benefits to gay or lesbian partners could be sexual orientation discrimination.

Sexual orientation discrimination and religion in the workplace

You may work with a colleague who has strong views on your sexual orientation because of their religion. However, this does not mean they can bully or harass you. In the workplace, everyone has the right to be treated with respect, no matter what their sexual orientation.

Disclosing your sexuality to your employer

Some employers ask for details of the sexual orientation of employees, either for monitoring purposes or as part of an equal opportunities questionnaire. You do not have to give this information.

Civil partnership paperwork

After entering a civil partnership you should receive a ‘civil partnership certificate’. If you or your partner want to change your name, employers should accept the certificate as evidence of the name change.

What to do next

If you think you have been discriminated against, victimised or harassed at work because of your sexual orientation, talk to your employer or personnel officer. If you belong to a trade union, you can contact your union representative. If you cannot resolve the matter informally, you can follow the grievance procedure set out in your contract of employment. Keep a written record of any sexual orientation harassment to show your employer.

You could make an application to an employment tribunal for sexual orientation discrimination if you:

  • are unhappy with the way your employer deals with your discrimination complaint
  • have been sacked because of your sexual orientation
  • feel you were not offered a job because of your sexual orientation