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15 Equal Opportunities

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1. Introduction

2. When discrimination can happen

3. Types of discrimination

4. Sex discrimination

5. Transgender people

6. Discrimination because you are gay or lesbian

Under new regulations, called the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, it is unlawful to discriminate against you at work because of your sexual orientation or sexual preference. The new regulations also cover work- related training.

The regulations say it is unlawful to discriminate against you because you are (or people think you are) gay, lesbian, heterosexual or bisexual. This includes:

  • deciding not to employ you;
  • dismissing you;
  • giving you worse terms and conditions at work;
  • not giving you training or a promotion; and
  • not giving you the same benefits that people of a different sexual orientation have (unless the benefits are only relevant to married people).

The law on equality talks about two types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination, which is when you are treated less favourably simply because of your sexual orientation. An example would be rejecting you for a promotion because you are lesbian, even though you have the skills and experience needed.
  • Indirect discrimination, which can happen where there are rules or conditions that apply to everyone but affect one group of people more than others, without there being a good reason. An example of indirect discrimination would be where an employer needs two people to manage a restaurant and advertises for a husband-and-wife team. This may discriminate against lesbian or gay couples.

Also, an employer may not discriminate or victimise you after you have left your job.

Benefits for same sex-partners

If an employer gives benefits, such as insurance or private health care, to heterosexual unmarried partners, then refusing to give the same benefits to same-sex partners would be discrimination.

However, employers do not have to provide benefits that are specially for married couples to gay couples. Yet both kinds of couple should get the same parental or adoption leave, if they are entitled to it.

Time off to deal with emergencies

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, you are entitled to unpaid leave to deal with unexpected or sudden problems concerning close family members, or people who depend on you. This includes a same-sex partner.

When an employer is allowed to discriminate

In some circumstances, an employer is allowed to discriminate if it is a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ that the jobholder must be of a particular sexual orientation. For example, in some cases, it may be lawful for an organisation providing welfare services to lesbian, gay and bisexual people to insist on some workers being of a particular sexual orientation.

It is important that each post is considered separately. An employer may not claim a genuine occupational requirement unless the work must be done by someone of a particular sexual orientation, not just because the employer would prefer it.

Also, an employer may not claim a genuine occupational requirement if they already have enough employees who can do those parts of the job that need someone with a particular sexual orientation. For example, if only a small part of the job qualifies for a genuine occupational requirement, then the work or jobs could be changed so that a genuine occupational requirement is not applied to a particular post.

To make sure it is still valid, a genuine occupational requirement should be looked at each time a post becomes vacant.

Harassment because of your sexual orientation

Harassment is unwanted behaviour that:

  • humiliates you; or
  • creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment at work.

It may be targeted at you because of your sexual orientation or it may be part of the general culture in your work place which, for example, tolerates anti-gay jokes and teasing. Harassment can be subjective (in other words, based on opinion), but an employer must ask themselves: Could what has happened be reasonably considered to have caused offence?

You do not have to be lesbian, gay or bisexual to be harassed at work. For example, you may be heterosexual but people think you are gay, and they often tease and call you nicknames that you find humiliating and upsetting. This is harassment, even though you are not gay.

The regulations also apply even though it is not your own sexuality that is the subject of the harassment – for example, if you have a son who is gay, and you are often teased at work about this. This may be harassment even though your sexual orientation is not the subject of the teasing.

Employers may be held responsible for the actions of their staff as well as the staff being individually responsible, unless it can be shown that the employer took all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from taking place.

People with HIV or AIDS

If you have HIV or AIDS, you may face discrimination. Whether or not you are gay, you may have protection under the Disability Discrimination Act. For more information, see the Community Legal Services Direct leaflet ‘Rights for Disabled People’.

7. Discrimination because of your religion or beliefs

8. What you can do about discrimination

9. Dealing with discrimination at work

10. Going to an employment tribunal

11. Dealing with other types of discrimination

12. The Human Rights Act

13. Discrimination because of your age

14. Further help

15. About this leaflet

Equal Opportunities - Albanian

Equal Opportunities - Arabic

Equal Opportunities - Bengali

Equal Opportunities - Chinese

Equal Opportunities - Farsi

Equal Opportunities - French

Equal Opportunities - Gujarati

Equal Opportunities - Portuguese

Equal Opportunities - Somali

Equal Opportunities - Spanish

Equal Opportunities - Urdu

Equal Opportunities - Turkish

This leaflet was published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Sara Leslie

Leaflet Version:  December 2019


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