As a result of many years of campaigning LGBT+ organisations and Trade Unions, LGBT+ workers now enjoy the same rights at work as their heterosexual (straight) colleagues.
As trade unionists, we can be proud of the part we played in the struggle for LGBT+ legal equality but serious problems remain. For instance, it is common for LGBT+ members to find themselves on the receiving end of:
- Verbal abuse and name calling by colleagues, managers and customers.
- Exposure to graffiti and so called ‘jokes’ about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Being ignored and excluded by colleagues.
- Refused equal access to pensions, parental or adoption leave and other rights at work.
- Physical violence.
- Sexual harassment.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against (treat someone less favourably) someone or harass them for reasons relating to either their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Although the Equality Act has not been enacted in Northern Ireland, similar legislation applies protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination. The law means an employer cannot treat a worker less favourably for reasons relating to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes but is not limited to:
- Refusing to employ someone or decide to dismiss someone because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender+.
- Refusing access to training or promotion because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Denying LGBT+ workers goods, facilities and services they offer to straight and non-transgender workers. This would include access to insurance schemes, travel concessions, or social events.
- Giving an unfair reference when someone leaves employment because of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
- Victimising someone by treating them less favourably if they have complained about alleged discrimination or given evidence in such a case.
- Discriminating against someone because they ‘associate’ with an LGBT+ worker. For example, it would be unlawful for an employer to treat a member less favourably because their sister is lesbian or their dad is transgender.
- Discriminating against someone because they are ‘perceived’ to be LGBT+ even though they aren’t.
Harassment is one of the biggest problems LGBT+ members face in the workplace. The law makes it clear that harassment, including so called ‘jokes’, is unlawful. It’s not good enough for managers to dismiss homophobia, biphobia or transphobia as “workplace banter”. That defence has been tested in employment tribunals, and it has repeatedly failed.
As important as the law is, we know that on its own it won’t stop harassment or discrimination from happening in our workplaces. Displaying Usdaw leaflets on tackling harassment and bullying, as well as LGBT+ literature, can send a strong signal to members and non-members alike that the Union understands the issues facing LGBT+ members.
Visit our LGBT+ History Month webpage for ideas about how you can show your support for LGBT+ members.