By Sacha Sokhi, Solicitor in the London Employment & Professional Discipline Team
February marks LGBT History Month, which aims to promote awareness of the issues faced by those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Since 2010, those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) against discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender affirmation (referred to as “gender reassignment” in the EqA).
Sexual orientation and gender affirmation are two protected characteristics under the EqA. Other protected characteristics include race, sex, disability, age, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity and religion and belief.
Under the Equality Act you’re protected from discrimination when you:
- Are in the workplace
- Use public services like healthcare or education
- Use businesses and other organisations that provide services and goods
- Use transport
- Join a club or association
- Have contact with public bodies like your local council or government departments.
The EqA prohibits different types of discrimination.
This happens when someone treats you worse than another person in a similar situation because of their protected characteristic.
This happens when an organisation’s has a particular policy or way of working that puts people with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage.
This occurs in the workplace when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.
This occurs when you are treated badly because you have either made a complaint of discrimination, or are supporting someone who has made a complaint of discrimination.
Sexual orientation discrimination
The EqA offers protection from discrimination relating to sexual orientation. This includes if someone’s sexual orientation is towards:
- Persons of the same sex
- Persons of the opposite sex
- More than one gender.
The EqA also offers protection if discrimination is based on a person's perceived sexual orientation. For example, if an employee is presumed to be homosexual but is in fact heterosexual, and receives homophobic comments, they’d be protected under the legislation.
In addition, the EqA protects those who’re discriminated against due to association. For example, if you are discriminated against because you are connected to someone who has a particular sexual orientation.
Gender affirmation discrimination
The EqA defines gender affirmation (referred to as “gender reassignment” in the EqA) as proposing to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone a process (or part of a process) to reassign sex. This includes changing physiological or other attributes of their sex.
There does not need to be any medical process carried out for a person to be protected under the EqA. The Equality and Human Rights Commission confirms that someone can be at any stage in the transition process.
The EqA does not specifically mention people who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid. But, recent case law has confirmed that people who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid may also be protected by the EqA.
Creating a better culture at work
To encourage a more inclusive, non-discriminatory culture at work for LGBTQIA+ colleagues, employers can:
- Remind staff of Equal Opportunities policies and implement regular training;
- Investigate all allegations of discrimination or breaches of Equal Opportunities policies, and consider taking disciplinary action;
- Organise unconscious bias training for all staff, including those in management;
- Implement a diversity network or group designed as a safe space to discuss issues in the workplace specifically for those in the LGBTQIA+ community;
- Actively promote awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues and events.
If you are experiencing any problems at work due to either your sexual orientation or gender affirmation, it’s never too late to get help and support with your employment rights.
Please feel free to contact us in confidence for an initial discussion.