Sexual discrimination in the workplace

Sexual orientation discrimination is when you are treated unfairly because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual. Discrimination in the workplace is unlawful and should not be tolerated. If you are experiencing unfair treatment, please get in touch with our experienced solicitors for advice.

What is sexual orientation discrimination?

‘Sexual orientation’ is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. That means it is illegal to treat you unfairly because of who you are sexuality.

It is against the law for somebody to discriminate against you because they think you have a particular sexual orientation (this is called ‘discrimination by perception’) or because you are the friend or relative of someone who has a particular sexual orientation.

What is the difference between sexual orientation and gender reassignment?

‘Gender reassignment’ like ‘sexual orientation’ is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

If you have been treated unfairly because you are a transgender person, this is against the law.

What are the types of sexual orientation discrimination?

There are four types of discrimination in the workplace:

Direct discrimination

This is overt discrimination. For example, someone is not offered a job because they are a man who mentioned their boyfriend in a job interview.

Indirect discrimination

This is when an organisation inadvertently discriminates against a person or a group of people.

For example, if a company organises a work trip to a country where homosexuality is illegal, this could be indirect discrimination against somebody who is gay. However, it is not classed as indirect discrimination if there is an ‘objective justification’ for the action (for example, if a work trip to a country where homosexuality is illegal cannot be avoided because it is where an important client is based).


This includes violence, bullying, gossiping, name calling and excluding someone because of their sexual orientation. Harassment is any conduct that makes someone feel degraded or offended. Passing off comments and jokes as ‘friendly banter’ is not justification.


If somebody makes a complaint related to sexual orientation discrimination and is treated unfavourably as a result, this is victimisation.

What are examples of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace?

Here are some examples:

  • You applied for a job, but you were rejected because of your sexual orientation.
  • You have left your job or are considering leaving your job because discriminatory behaviour makes life intolerable.
  • You have been selected for redundancy because of your sexual orientation.
  • You have been overlooked for promotion or demoted because of your sexual orientation.
  • You have been victimised because you have made a complaint about discrimination in the workplace.

What can you do about sexual orientation discrimination?

The first step is to follow your employer’s grievance procedure. If you do not receive a satisfactory outcome, you need to register your claim with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). It is crucial to act quickly because you have just three months less one day from the date that discrimination took place to register with ACAS.

ACAS will work with you and your employer to try and help reach a satisfactory outcome together. This could be financial compensation for your personal distress and loss of earnings and an agreement from your employer that they will make changes to improve the culture in the workplace.

If you cannot settle your dispute, the next stage is to take your discrimination claim to an employment tribunal. Our solicitors can represent, support and advise you throughout the tribunal process.

Have a question or need some help?

Sexual discrimination lawyers

If you think you have been treated unfairly at work because of your gender or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, our sympathetic lawyers are here to help you.

We can guide you through your employer’s grievance processes, ACAS conciliation and an employment tribunal if necessary. We will work with you to try and reach a settlement agreement as quickly and amicably as possible and to achieve an outcome you are happy with.

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