Legal insight

What counts as sexual orientation discrimination and harassment?

Discrimination law protects people whatever their sexual orientation. This includes heterosexual, gay and bisexual people. It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against a worker because of her (or his) sexual orientation or because s/he is believed to be gay.

For example:

  • Stereotyping someone because of her sexual orientation, such as thinking a lesbian will not be able to work well with men.
  • Not promoting someone because they are gay.
  • Discriminating against someone because of something connected with their sexual orientation, for example the way they dress, the places they visit or the people they spend time with.

Job applicants

Discrimination law protects job applicants as well as employees. For example, a woman mentions in a job interview that she has a same sex partner. She is not offered the job although she is the most qualified candidate. A heterosexual woman is offered the job. If the unsuccessful candidate was not offered the job because of her sexual orientation, this is discrimination. The fact that a less qualified candidate was appointed may be used to show that the treatment was on grounds of her sexual orientation.

What is harassment related to sexual orientation?

Harassment related to sexual orientation occurs when someone engages in unwanted conduct related to a worker’s sexual orientation which violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

It does not matter if the person intended to do so, it is simply enough that they have violated a worker’s dignity or caused a hostile environment.

Legal insight’ is provided by Leigh Day & Co solicitors, specialists in employment discrimination. They can be contacted on 0845 099 5586 or by email:  You can also contact The Law Society on 0870 606 2555 for a list of employment solicitors.