Legal protection against discrimination Aug Sept FF 2019

Sexual orientation discrimination: your legal protections

Despite the great strides that have been taken over several decades, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers remains an entrenched and very much a live issue for many in the workplace.

The results of a survey of over 100,000 LGBT people in the UK that was published by the government last year were disheartening for many. The survey found that 23 per cent of respondents had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to either being, or being thought to be, LGBT. A fifth of respondents had not been open about their sexual orientation with colleagues who were at the same or lower level than them, while 30 per cent were not open with senior colleagues.

It was also reported that 77 per cent of respondents stated that they had experienced a negative incident at work in the preceding 12 months. The report found that the most serious incident was not reported, primarily because they thought it would not be worth it, or that nothing would happen or change even if they did.

In response to the survey, the government put together an LGBT ‘action plan’ to help employers and employees deal with LGBT discrimination in the workplace. While the action plan is welcome, it is clear that wider societal shifts are needed. At FBU, we negotiate with employers to protect LGBT workers from being discriminated against, to promote inclusion in the workplace and to assist LGBT firefighters to enforce their legal rights in the workplace.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects LGBT staff from all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including recruitment, promotion, training or any other detrimental treatment because of sexual orientation. If someone feels they have been treated less favourably in the workplace because of sexual orientation, they may be able to bring a claim against their employer under the Act. This holds true even if the discrimination occurs because someone is thought to be LGBT.

LGBT people are also protected from harassment at work, including physical or verbal abuse, jokes or offensive comments. While those with a ‘non-binary identity’ - a gender identity that is not masculine or feminine and that does not necessarily correlate with a person’s sex - are not explicitly protected under the Equality Act 2010, a person may be protected if they are discriminated against because of perceived gender.

Where a successful discrimination claim is brought, compensation can be awarded for what is known as ‘injury to feelings’ and financial losses, if there are any. Employment tribunals are also able to issue recommendations that will obviate or reduce the adverse effect of the discrimination on the person bringing the claim. So, for example, where an LGBT worker was found to have been discriminated against in a promotion, a tribunal could recommend that those involved in the promotion process receive equality training. Note though that a tribunal cannot recommend that the person be promoted as that would be seen to amount to positive discrimination. If an employer fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a recommendation, the tribunal may order the compensation awarded to be increased.

To find out more about Thompsons’ work with the FBU, visit

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