Sexual orientation and employment - Advice for individuals and employers

Jun 23, 2020

Under the Employment Equality Acts (1998-2015) it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against somebody because of their sexual orientation.

This principle applies to all aspects of work and employment including:

  • Recruitment
  • Bullying and harassment policies
  • Terms of employment, including pay
  • Promotion, transfer and training opportunities
  • Dismissal or redundancy
  • Discipline and grievances

What is sexual orientation?

The term sexual orientation refers to:

  • 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 opposite sex (bisexual)

Types of discrimination

There are 4 types of discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation.

Direct discrimination

Treating someone less favourably because of his or her perceived or actual sexual orientation, or that of someone they associate with.

Indirect discrimination

This occurs when a policy or procedure applies to all employees but disadvantages people of a certain sexual orientation. For example, a maternity or paternity policy that doesn't apply to same-sex couples.


Intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive behaviour towards an individual, associated with their sexual orientation. This can include revealing a person's sexual orientation to others against that person's will.


Unfair treatment of an individual who has made a complaint about discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

Coming out

This refers to people choosing to tell others about their sexual orientation. This is a very personal decision. Some people may choose to keep this information private at work. Any breach of this confidentiality by another person could be seen as harassment and a breach of data protection legislation.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure a culture of respect and tolerance, so that anyone who chooses to come out at work feels confident doing so.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.