The law on LGBT+ and sexual orientation at work

Last updated: 20 Nov 2023

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the basis of nine protected characteristics including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

Sexual orientation is defined in the Act as “a person’s sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex, or persons of either sex.”

The law does not reflect the range of gender identity of all in the LGBT+ community. However it does protect workers with perceived protected characteristics so it may be possible to argue that sex discrimination provisions apply.

The Act defines the protected characteristic of gender reassignment as: “where a person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing, or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.  It protects therefore, trans people from the point of their intention to undergo a gender reassignment process through to completing it.  It is important to remember that it not only covers those who have medical intervention.

The Act outlaws:

  • Direct discrimination – where someone is treated less favourably because of their sexual orientation or because of gender reassignment.
  • Indirect discrimination – where the employer applies a provision, criterion, or practice to all, but the practice has a disproportionately adverse effect on people sharing a protected characteristic and the practice is not objectively justifiable.
  • Harassment – Unwanted conduct related to sexual orientation or gender reassignment, which has the purpose or effect of violating the other’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
  • Victimisation – Where someone is treated unfavourably because they have brought a case, supported someone else bringing a case, or have alleged that the employer has infringed their rights under the Act.

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