Sexual orientation discrimination

Under the Equality Act 2010, 'sexual orientation' includes how you choose to express your sexual orientation, such as through your appearance or the places you visit.

The Act protects you from being discriminated against because:

  • You are heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
  • Someone thinks you have a particular sexual orientation. This is 'discrimination by perception'.
  • You are connected to someone who has a particular sexual orientation. This is 'discrimination by association'.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission outlines situations in which it may be lawful for your employer to treat you differently with regard to sexual orientation. This could be because:

  • having a particular sexual orientation is essential for a job – ie, it is an 'occupational requirement'. For example, an employer wanting to recruit an advice worker with experience of coming out for a young person's LGBT helpline is allowed to specify that applicants must be lesbian or gay.
  • an organisation is taking positive action to encourage or develop gay, lesbian or bisexual people to participate in a role or activity.
  • the treatment by an employer or organisation falls within one of the exceptions that permits people to be treated differently based on their sexual orientation. For example, a charity can provide a benefit only to lesbians and gay men in certain circumstances.
  • a religious or belief organisation excludes people of a particular sexual orientation from its membership or participation in its activities, or its provision of goods, facilities and services. This applies only to organisations whose purpose is to practise, promote or teach a religion or belief, whose sole or main purpose is not commercial. The restrictions they impose must be necessary either to comply with the doctrine of the organisation or to avoid conflict with the 'strongly held religious convictions' of the religion's followers.