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You think you're a victim of sexual orientation discrimination at work - overview

This advice applies to Scotland

Your employer and colleagues can’t treat you differently from other people because of your sexual orientation - whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual. This is called sexual orientation discrimination.

If anyone at work behaves in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable because of your sexual orientation it’s called harassment.

If you complain about discrimination and are treated worse because of your complaint, it’s called victimisation.

Discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of sexual orientation are against the law. If you think you’re experiencing any of these things, you can talk to a specialist at your nearest Citizens Advice about what to do next.

Identifying discrimination

Discrimination at work can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ - both kinds are against the law.

If you think you’re being discriminated against, you should report it.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination happens if your employer treats you worse than they treat someone else because of your sexual orientation, or because you’re associated with someone of a particular sexual orientation. This could include:

  • refusing to employ you or give you work
  • dismissing you from your job
  • not promoting you
  • giving you worse pay or benefits

Indirect discrimination

Indirect race discrimination happens if your employer has rules for all staff that disadvantage you and other people who are of the same sexual orientation as you.

For example, if your employer has a rule that opposite-sex partners who are not civil partners or spouses get invited to company functions, but same-sex partners do not, this is indirect sexual orientation discrimination.

A rule that disadvantages you does not always amount to indirect sexual orientation discrimination. It probably won’t be considered discrimination if the employer can show the rule is:

  • being applied to meet a legitimate business need
  • appropriate despite its potentially discriminatory effect

Identifying harassment

If you find someone's behaviour toward you offensive, frightening, humiliating or distressing in any other way, you're being harassed.

It’s sexual orientation harassment if the behaviour is related to sexual orientation and undermines your dignity at work - for example, if someone circulates a homophobic comment via work email.

It doesn’t matter if the harassment is intentional or not.

If you think you’re being harassed, you should report it.

Identifying victimisation

If you’ve already complained about being harassed or discriminated against and are treated badly as a result, you’re being victimised.

For example, if you have:

  • been ignored by your colleagues
  • been given a bad reference
  • been denied a promotion or training opportunity

Reporting harassment, discrimination or victimisation

Follow these steps if you’re being discriminated against, harassed or victimised.

Step 1

First, speak to your manager or HR department - they’re required by law to take steps to prevent harassment and discrimination.

You should follow up any conversation you have in writing, and keep a copy for yourself.

It’s worth collecting evidence - for example by keeping a diary. List dates and locations, and describe what happened, each time you experience discrimination.

Step 2

If you’ve tried to stop the issue but it hasn’t worked you should, where appropriate, raise a written grievance.

All workplaces have to have a grievance procedure - ask your HR team, trade union or manager if you’re not sure.

Step 3

You can take your case to an employment tribunal.

You have to go through Acas early conciliation first.

You’ll need expert advice before you decide to do this. Get help from a specialist at your nearest Citizens Advice.

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