LGBTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace

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LGBTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace
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Under the UK’s Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate, harass or victimise an employee or colleague due to their sexual orientation. Additionally, transgender workers are also protected under the ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic, which makes it illegal to discriminate against them in the workplace.

Although there are legislations in place to protect a worker’s sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBTQ+ harassment in the workplace still happens.  CIPD’s 2020 research shows that sexual orientation harassment cases have been increasing by 165% since 2015.

LGBTQ+ Harassment Figures From CIPD, TUC and Stonewall

CIPD research report explored LGBTQ+ experiences of work, from conflict to well-being and to job outcomes. The results show that LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than heterosexual, cisgender employees. More than 4 in 10 LGBTQ+ employees have experienced work-based conflict in the last year alone. The majority of the respondents of the survey also revealed that the conflict was not resolved.

  • 49% of LGBTQ+ and 55% of trans workers have experienced such conflict compared to 20% of heterosexual, cisgender employees.
  • Additionally, 16% of LGBTQ+ employees feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace compared to 10% of heterosexual workers. For trans workers, this is 18%.
  • Threats of negative comments or harassment have led to 35% of people who identify as LGBTQ+ to hide their sexual orientation from anyone at work
  • 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ workers have experienced at least one type of sexual harassment at work. The most common is hearing comments on their sexual orientation (43%) and comments on their gender identity (30%).

It is without a doubt that the handling of conflict and harassment in the workplace must improve. Employers need to develop a better understanding of the specific experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ employees, especially when it comes to building awareness and acting on trans policies and practices.

Although some employers may have inclusion policies in place, a recent LinkedIn report showed that 57% of LGBTQ+ employees are pushing for their employer to have a clearer strategy in place to protect them. Examples of this are heightened awareness of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. The research also found that not having an inclusive workplace culture led to 25% of the respondents leaving employment. This is a direct result of them not feeling accepted at work.

What is Harassment?

Under the Equality Act, 2010 harassment refers to “unwanted conduct which violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

An Example of LGBTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace

Alex works in an office where ‘jokes’ are frequently made about her being transgender. Additionally, jokes about LGBTQ+ people are made frequently in the office. The comments are made in Alex’s presence and even in front of management who do not challenge the behaviour. The view amongst the staff is that she should not take the comments seriously, as they are just a ‘joke’ and fit into the workplace culture where everyone is teased about something.

Harassment can come in many different forms such as:

  • Jokes and banter
  • Insults
  • Threats
  • Asking invasive questions that make someone uncomfortable
  • Excluding someone from activities and work social events
  • Unnecessary and degrading references to someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Spreading rumours of gossip. This can include speculating about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or outing them.

Read more about protected characteristics and whether you are experiencing harassment in the workplace. 

The Law on LGBTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace

Although some people may class making comments as ‘banter’ or as something not to be taken seriously, if they leave an employee feeling like they have been targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and this leaves them feeling intimidates, degraded, humiliated, or offended, then this behaviour can be defined as harassment and would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. It is important to note, that even if the person making the comments or actions does not intend for it to be harassment, the law will look at how the victim perceives it over the harasser.

The Equality Act states that the employer is responsible for the behaviour of its employees. Therefore, your employer will need to take reasonable steps to challenge and prevent LGBTQ+ harassment in the workplace.

Career Progression and Wage Gaps for LGBTQ+ Employees

Studies by the Social Science Research Network (April 2022) found that in the US, 10 years after graduating, those who identify as LGBTQ+ earn on average 22% less than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts.

University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar Marc Folch, states that there is evidence for part of this pay gap to be attributed to workplace discrimination. This is either through the hiring process or during their career.

When in employment, a surveyed 3 in 20 LGBTQ+ women believe that their sexual orientation will negatively affect advancements in their career. This compares to LGBTQ+ men where the figure is 6 in 20.

What Can Employers Do to Address LGTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace?

Many studies have shown that by creating a diverse and accepting workplace, employees are happier and express greater job satisfaction and an improvement in financial standing. To create a diverse workforce there are some steps an employer can implement. Some examples are:

Recruitment Process

The best place to reduce harassment and create a diverse workplace is in the recruitment process. The recruitment process should include inclusive language that considers pronouns and titles upon application forms. Ensure that the applications and job descriptions remain neutral and that there is no bias in the employees that are reviewing the applications.

Change the Language in the Workplace

Additionally, changing the language in a company can help make it an inclusive workspace. Making sure to understand your co-workers or employees’ pronouns and use them correctly, can help people to feel both respected and visible in the workplace. This should extend into emails, employee bios, and forms.

Create LGBTQ+ Networking Groups

Setting up an LGBTQ+ networking group in a workplace can help initiate conversations. Additionally, it can help to create an inclusive environment where employees can share their experiences. Setting up a networking group can help provide a voice for LGBTQ+ requirements and areas of concern as well as help engage with the wider community.

Assure a Zero-Tolerance Approach

As an employer, you should never expect an LGBTQ+ employee to educate other employees unless they desire to do so. It is an employee’s responsibility to create a zero-tolerance approach to workplace harassment. In addition, to create a culture of acceptance, an employer must make sure that all members of the company are aware of the discrimination policies and provided employees with diversity and inclusion training.

When it comes to creating an inclusive workplace, there is no quick fix. Superscript discuss a place to start with 14 Ways to Create an LGBT Inclusive Workplace.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Report LGBTQ+ Harassment When You’re Not ‘Out’ at Work

Being ‘out’ refers to being open to others about one’s sexual orientation, romantic orientation, or gender identity. The rules under the Equality Act 2010 protect employees from discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity even if the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not openly known. Additionally, it protects the individual if their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrongly perceived. What’s important is to look at the key elements of behaviour and its motivation. An employer should have a confidential mechanism in place where an employee can challenge any harassment without having to come out.

Can I Make a Claim if a Customer Harasses Me?

Third-party harassment includes harassment from customers or service users. It is no longer included in protections for LGBTQ+ people by the Equality Act. However, if an employer does not address LGBTQ+ harassment while taking other matters such as racial or sexist comments seriously, you may still have a claim.

Are you Being Discriminated Against?

You may be unsure about whether what you are experiencing at work counts as ‘unlawful workplace discrimination. Or, you may be anxious about starting a legal procedure against your employer (or previous employer) without the right assistance.

We can help you establish whether what you have experienced is discrimination. With our employment solicitors at your side, you can take back control and work towards a satisfactory solution. We’ll help you resolve the workplace issues you are experiencing, whatever they are.

How Long Do I Have To Make a LGBTQ+ Harassment in the Workplace Claim

You have 3 months, minus 1 day from the last harassment incident.

How AWH’s Employment Law Solicitors Can with Your Claim

LGBTQ+ harassment in the workplace can happen at any point in a career. Whether the harassment was aimed directly at you or your workplace’s general attitude has caused you to experience discrimination, you have the right to make a claim.

We have further, in-depth information about how to make a workplace discrimination claim with AWH Solicitors.

From the date of the last discriminatory act, you have three months, minus one day to make a claim.

Our expert solicitors work on a no-win, no-fee basis in all our employment law cases. This means that you don’t need to worry about any of the financial implications of making a claim.

Our expert employment law team will assess your situation and help you understand what your rights are. If you choose to bring a discrimination claim against your employer we will be by your side throughout the process. Our solicitors will support you and ensure that you get the full compensation you are entitled to.

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