Over the years we have seen many changes and improvements in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. The same can be said for LGBTQ+ rights within the workplace. LGBTQ+ workers are now afforded the same protections as their non-LGBTQ+ colleagues when it comes to discrimination, however this does not mean that discrimination has been eradicated from workplaces. There are however steps employers can take to be proactive in tackling these issues and promoting diversity.
The law around LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace:
The Equality Act 2010 bans workplace discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, which is a protected characteristic under the Act.
In terms of ‘LGBTQ+’, transgender workers are also fully protected under the Equality Act, on the basis that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of gender reassignment. A person does not have to undergo a medical procedure to be afforded this protection.
There are four types of discrimination which can occur in the workplace:
- Direct discrimination – where a worker has been treated differently or worse than another worker due to a protected characteristic. In this case that would be sexual orientation and/or gender reassignment.
- Indirect discrimination – where an employer puts in place a provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) which puts people with a specific characteristic at a disadvantage.
- Harassment – unwelcome and negative verbal or physical behaviour based on a protected characteristic.
- Victimisation – where somebody becomes a victim of harmful behaviour because they have, or are suspected to have, made or supported a complaint to do with a protected characteristic.
How to ensure LGBTQ+ workers are protected:
Employers could start by promoting equality and making it clear to the workforce that diversity is encouraged. An employer could also include an outline of their strategy to tackle misconceptions and promote diversity.
It would be good practice for employers to ensure they have policies and practices in place which not only protect LGBTQ+ workers, but ensure all staff are aware what behaviour will not be tolerated. Education is key in working towards an inclusive workplace. Some examples of policies an employer should look to have in place are:
- A comprehensive equal opportunities policy – not all equal opportunities policies include specific reference to LGBTQ+ equality, which makes it more unlikely that specific action will be taken.
- Anti-discrimination policy – make sure all staff are aware what behaviour amounts to discrimination and that this will not be tolerated.
- Harassment policies – as with equal opportunities policies, many harassment policies do not refer to LGBTQ+. Employers should be encouraged to check their policies and ensure homophobic and biphobic harassment is specifically referred to.
The above are examples of general workplace policies which can be amended to protect LGBTQ+ workers, however employers could also look at introducing LGBTQ+ specific policies. For example, policies dealing with transitioning at work. This would be of great help to the transitioning employee, but also to management and HR in dealing with the change.
Alongside policies, employers could also provide their staff with training, for example diversity training. This could be particularly useful to staff in management positions.
Confidential complaints procedure – this may make it easier for LGBTQ+ workers to feel comfortable raising issues. Many people fear they won’t be taken seriously, or a situation will be made worse if they report an incident. It is important for staff to feel comfortable raising concerns and supported in doing so, particularly where this involves discrimination.
Going the extra mile:
Below are some examples of extra steps employers could take to make LGBTQ+ workers feel welcomed, supported and safe. After all, working in an inclusive environment is of the utmost importance.
Consider creating a gender-neutral environment – this can be done by making physical changes, such as establishing a unisex toilet, and using gender-neutral language, like ‘partner’ instead of husband or wife/boyfriend or girlfriend.
Network groups – this could allow LGBTQ+ workers to advise employers on things that work well in the workplace and areas that may need a new approach. This might be something which is more effective in larger businesses.
Show your support for the local LGBTQ+ community – this could be done by providing information about local events and community groups. This could help LGBTQ+ workers to feel supported and represented.
To sum up:
The main aim for employers and employees alike is inclusivity and equality. Employers do not need to be concerned about how to go about this, they just need to ensure that issues are sensitively managed and that all workers feel protected and represented. Employers should be encouraged to take practical and positive steps with the objective of achieving a welcoming, supportive and safe working environment.
Please contact Aisling Foley in our employment team for more information.