Now celebrated across the UK, this June marks the 51st anniversary of Pride. It is a month intended to celebrate, support and campaign for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ+). It is also a time to recognise that, whilst significant progress has been made in advancing the LGBTQ+ rights, there is still work that needs to be done.
Over the years the UK has taken several steps towards protecting LGBTQ+ employees. Anti- homosexuality laws have been lifted progressively since 1967, and the Equal Treatment Framework Directive (2000/78/EC) (Framework Directive) prohibited direct sexual orientation discrimination, indirect sexual orientation discrimination, sexual orientation harassment and victimisation in the workplace. That protection was replaced by the Equality Act 2010 which made it unlawful to directly or indirectly discriminate against individuals because of a “protected characteristic”. Sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment are all protected characteristics.
Despite this progress, some argue that there are limitations to the Equality Act’s protections for all those under the LGBTQ+ banner – for example, it is unclear whether the protected characteristic of ‘sex’ is limited to biological sex. In addition, the Employment Tribunal has recently found that the Equality Act can protect employees who express ‘gender-critical’ beliefs.
Sadly LGBTQ+ people still report experiencing discrimination and hostility in the workplace. A report produced by CIPD in 2021 (titled ‘Inclusion at Work: perspectives on LGBT+ working lives) found that 11% of LGB+ workers reported discriminatory behaviour, rising to 23% for trans workers.
Pride month is a good time for employers to reflect on whether there is more that they could do to support LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace. Employers could consider taking the following steps:
- Review your internal policies: Employers should have policies and procedures in place that clearly prohibit discrimination, bullying, and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, such as an equality and diversity policy and/or an anti-harassment and bullying policy. In addition to helping prevent discrimination, the existence and implementation of these policies can help employers to defend discrimination claims.
- Involve your employees: This could include establishing networking groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues allowing staff to connect and share peer support. This could make an enormous difference to the experiences of your LGBTQ+ employees.
- Train your staff: Provide training to employees about what inclusion looks like in your organisation, and ensure that they are aware of and understand the policies and procedures that address equality and anti-harassment.
- Understand your people: Get to know your staff by having regular one to one meetings and monitoring their wellbeing at work. This can help ensure you spot and effectively respond to any issues.
- Use inclusive language: Consider using inclusive, or gender-neutral terms, where appropriate. This could include referring to a person’s partner (rather than just mentioning husbands and wives) or saying “Hi all” or “Hi team” instead of “Hi guys”. Consider also allowing employees to state their preferred pronouns, should they wish to.
- Support the local LGBTQ+ community: Show your organisation’s support towards the local LGBTQ+ community. You could do this by supporting local LGBTQ+ charities, providing information to staff about local events and groups or by advertising volunteering opportunities at LGBTQ+ events like Pride Month.
- Consider how to address conflicts: Recent cases have confirmed that ‘gender-critical’ beliefs are capable of being protected under the Equality Act and employers may find themselves having to address a conflict between such beliefs and LGBTQ+ rights. This is not an easy issue to address if it arises, and employers must be open to engaging sensitively in dialogue with those impacted to try and find a resolution, whilst balancing the rights of each party.