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Sexual orientation discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 protects people possessing the protected characteristic of ‘sexual orientation’ against unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Key points

  • Protection is provided for people with a sexual orientation towards: the same sex (homosexuals); the opposite sex (heterosexuals); both sexes (bisexuals).
  • Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated, or would be treated, less favourably ‘because of’ sexual orientation compared with others in like-for-like circumstances.
  • Indirect sexual orientation discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) puts a person of one sexual orientation at a particular disadvantage compared to others with a different sexual orientation. An employer may be able to justify the PCP as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  • Occupational requirements, where the nature or context of the work require a person to be of a particular sexual orientation, and religious requirements relating to sexual orientation, where employment is for the purposes of an organised religion, can be lawful exceptions to direct and indirect discrimination.
  • Harassment occurs where unwanted conduct related to sexual orientation violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 
  • Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment for carrying out a ‘protected act’ (for example, bringing a discrimination claim).
  • Employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees ‘in the course of employment’.