June is LGBT Pride Month and for this year’s pride month I want to talk about sexual orientation in the workplace. I’ll be giving you some do’s and don’ts and key reminders about managing sexual orientation in the workplace. I’ll also be giving some fun LGBT facts along the way!
The basic premise
Guaranteed equality based on sexual orientation and gender identity comes from the Equality Act 2010. This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, workers, potential employees or job seekers and trainees because of their sexual orientation.
For example, it’s most likely discrimination if you don’t give someone a bonus because they are gay. However, it’s important to note that protection against discrimination applies to all sexual orientations. This means orientation towards people of the same sex (gay or lesbian), orientation towards people of the opposite sex (heterosexual) and orientation towards people of the same sex and opposite sex (bisexual).
Fun fact: The United Kingdom is one of only five countries in the world with constitutions or legislation explicitly guaranteeing equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – the other four being Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji and Malta.
There are 4 main types of sexual orientation discrimination:
- Direct discrimination
- Indirect discrimination
You can read more on these types of discrimination in our guide to Equal opportunities and discrimination.
Fun Fact: The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.
Managing sexual orientation in the workplace
Using language carefully
I won’t be discussing discrimination as such in much detail here, but instead the social and HR aspect of sexual orientation in the workplace.
One issue which often comes up is whether ‘jokes’ or ‘banter’ constitute harassment or bullying. In various workplace scenarios, people say things without intending to offend or cause harm but has the effect of excluding someone or making someone feel uncomfortable. Some ‘jokes’ or ‘banter’ may even be borderline malicious. In most circumstances, people should be cautious about making jokes or comments about someone’s sexual orientation. What one person finds ‘funny’, may be upsetting to another. And in truth, if you think it is offensive, it most likely is and shouldn’t be shared.
It’s especially important for employers and managers to take complaints of this kind seriously. Employers should be mindful that an employee may find it difficult to discuss the problem.
An employer may find it helpful to have a specific policy in place setting out how it deals with complaints about discrimination or harassment/bullying and provide a safe and confidential environment where an employee can express their concerns and complaints.
Language is also important for the transgendered community. Employers should make a proactive effort to be inclusive if they want a diverse workforce or want to support the LGBT community. For example, respecting pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘she’ that an individual feels comfortable with.
Fun Fact: Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 28 countries worldwide and illegal in 167 countries.
Provide a confidential support network
In a YouGov research of 3,213 LGBT employees, it was recorded that 35% of LGBT employees concealed or hid their sexual identity from their employers and colleagues for fear of discrimination.
It’s therefore important that employers understand and provide support with those who are ‘coming out’ or want to disclose their sexual identity.
‘Coming out’ is where an individual tells other people about their sexual orientation and this process is personal and different for everyone. If an employee has decided to ‘come out’, then the employer should find out whether the person wants this information to be kept confidential.
If an employee is ‘outed’ (which means they their sexual orientation has been disclosed without their consent or against their will), then the employer could be in breach of their duties and breach of the Data Protection Act.
The knock-on effect could be de-motivation from the affected employee as well as subjecting them to bullying and harassment. The employer should have policies and training in place to support LGBT employees with ‘coming out’.
Fun Fact: Taiwan will become the first Asian country to allow same-sex marriage after a ruling through Taiwan’s Constitutional Court.
It’s a no-brainer that creating a workplace that accepts everyone is good. Aside from the moral justification, it makes good business sense too. If employees feel comfortable and happy at work, they are more likely to perform better and work better with colleagues, instead of having to hide or conceal who they are.
Fun Fact: Pride is celebrated in over 174 cities in 46 different countries worldwide!
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