LGBT+ employees still face significant workplace challenges

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Employment Law on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

1 February 2021 marked the beginning of LGBT+ History Month, an annual celebration that provides education and an insight into the issues the LGBT+ community faces. LGBT+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, plus other types of sexuality and gender identity. 

The event, held in February each year, also aims to educate and more importantly to ensure that educational and other institutions/organisations are safe and positive spaces. Despite the strides that have been made in recent decades to promote LGBT+ rights and to enshrine these in law, the community unfortunately still faces discrimination, harassment and victimisation in workspaces. In this blog, we will take a look at how the law protects the LGBT+ community in the workplace, the challenges they continue to face, and the steps that can be taken against those violating their rights to equality at work.

The challenges

According to a McKinsey report entitled LGBTQ+ voices: Learning from lived experiences, LGBT+ employees face a range of unique workplace challenges, including:

  • Coming out – being honest about one’s sexuality at work was perceived as a distinct challenge by many of the 2,000 respondents interviewed by the study, particularly for junior employees. While 80% of LGBT+ senior leaders are ‘out’ at work, just 32% of junior employees can say the same.
  • Discrimination – the feeling that LGBT+ employees had to far outperform their heterosexual peers to be given the same opportunities at work was widespread among the interviewees, while discriminatory company policies can also make life difficult for LGBT+ employees.
  • Microaggressions – hearing derogatory comments or jokes about themselves or people like them is a common feature of working life. 60% of respondents reported that they had had to correct colleagues’ assumptions about their personal lives, while others were subject to the painful experience of misgendering (being referred to by a pronoun that does not reflect one’s gender identity).
  • Isolation – due to the underrepresentation of LGBT+ employees in many workplaces, especially corporate environments, many respondents reported being the “only” person of their sexuality at work, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

What does the law say?

Sexuality is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (under sexual orientation discrimination), meaning that a member of the LGBT+ community cannot legally be discriminated against, harassed or victimised for their sexuality. This includes occasions where the discriminator wrongly perceives a heterosexual person as having a different sexual orientation, or where a person is discriminated against due to their association with a member of the LGBT+ community.  LGBT+ employees mut not be treated less favourably under any circumstances in the workplace.

Case law shows us that employers can be successfully taken before an employment tribunal and penalised for failing to protect LGBT+ employees from discrimination. In April 2020, a gay engineer was awarded a total of £175,000 (including unfair dismissal, injury to feelings, loss of earnings and an ACAS uplift for the employer failing to follow the ACAS code of practice) following discriminatory treatment after he came out and told colleagues that he and his husband were looking into adoption. Meanwhile, in 2019, a lesbian employee won a discrimination case because her boss told her to hide her sexuality at work.

We support you

At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we do not tolerate sexual orientation discrimination in any form. That’s why our Employment Law team works so tirelessly to assist LGBT+ clients who have experienced workplace discrimination, bullying, harassment, victimisation or unfair dismissal. Do not suffer in silence: our sympathetic lawyers can help you deal with your issue sensitively, ensure your rights are protected, and advise you of all the necessary steps to help resolve your situation.

Sources:

https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/

mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/lgbtq-plus-voices-learning-from-lived-experiences 

https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/gay-engineer-awarded-175k-for-nightmare-treatment-after-coming-out/

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/lesbian-employee-told-keep-sexuality-secret-wins-discrimination-case

 

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