Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation under the Equality Act 2010

Who does the Act protect?

The Act protects heterosexuals, gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Where a person is wrongly perceived as being gay, for example, they will be protected by the Act. Associated persons, for example the family of a person, are also protected by the Act.

What does the Act prohibit?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination (whether direct or indirect), harassment and victimisation on the ground of a person’s sexual orientation.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs where a person treats another person less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others on grounds of their sexual orientation. This may include, for example, not employing a gay man at a child care centre for fear that the safety of children will be put at risk.
However, conduct which would on the face of it amount to direct discrimination is permitted if the conduct amounts to a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice, which is applied or would apply equally to persons not of the same sexual orientation, puts persons of a particular sexual orientation at a disadvantage. For example, preferring job applicants who have children may amount to indirect discrimination since gay people are less likely to have children.

Conduct which can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is, however, permitted.

What is harassment?

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct related on grounds of their sexual orientation which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him. This may include, for example, making homophobic jokes in the workplace.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that he has (or it is believed that he has or may) carried out one of the following acts:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act;

  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act.

  • made an allegation that a person has contravened the Act.

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For more information on:

  • In what circumstances does the Act apply?
  • Employment
  • Other situations
  • How is the Act enforced?