What is workplace discrimination? 

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of their sexual orientation. For example, an employer not promoting an employee purely because they are gay is likely to be discrimination.


The Act defines sexual orientation as:

  • orientation towards people of the same sex (lesbians and gay men)

  • orientation towards people of the opposite sex (heterosexual)

  • orientation towards people of the same sex and the opposite sex (bisexual).

The law applies equally whether someone is a lesbian, gay man, heterosexual or bisexual. There are four main types of sexual orientation discrimination.

Legal Overview training slides



What are the protected characteristics? 
Do you feel that you have been the victim on discrimination?

For more information on discrimination, read the ACAS guidelines.

ACAS offer a free advice hotline. The Acas helpline number is 0300 123 1100. It is available Monday to Friday 8am-6pm. 

Discrimination types

1. Direct discrimination


Breaks down into three different sorts of direct discrimination. Treating someone 'less favourably' because of:

  • their actual sexual orientation (ordinary direct discrimination)

  • their perceived sexual orientation (direct discrimination by perception)

  • the sexual orientation of someone with whom they associate (direct discrimination by association).

2. Indirect discrimination


Can occur where there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule which applies to all employees, but disadvantages people of a particular sexual orientation. An example of this could be a particular policy for maternity/paternity leave does not apply to same-sex couples.

In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is what the law terms 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'​

3. Harassment


When unwanted conduct relating to sexual orientation has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

4. Victimisation


Is when an employee suffers what the law terms a 'detriment' - something that causes disadvantage, damage, harm or loss - because, for example, they have made or supported a complaint about sexual orientation discrimination.

Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent sexual orientation discrimination in:

  • recruitment

  • determining pay, and terms and conditions of employment

  • training and development

  • selection for promotion

  • discipline and grievances

  • countering bullying and harassment

  • dismissal.