Law on sexual orientation discrimination at work

The law relating to discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation is contained in the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.  

On 8 April 2010 the Equalities Act 2010 was passed. However, in order to allow time for people and organisations affected by the Equalities Act 2010 to prepare for the new law, only a few provisions of the Act came into force that day. It is expected that most of the main provisions of the Act will come into force in October 2010. However, this is not clear at present as there has been a change of government since the Act was passed. 

When the Equalities Act 2010 does come into force the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 will be revoked in their entirety.

What is meant by “sexual orientation”?

For the purpose of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, “sexual orientation” means a sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex, or to both persons of the same sex and of the opposite sex. The Regulations, therefore, apply to heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals.

What acts are prohibited by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003?

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 prohibits the following acts:

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated less favourably than other persons on grounds of sexual orientation.

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 and cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Discrimination by victimisation

Victimisation occurs where a person receives less favourable treatment than others by reason of the fact that he has brought, or given evidence in, proceedings, made an allegation, or otherwise done anything under or by reference to the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

Harassment on grounds of sexual orientation

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct on grounds of sexual orientation which has the purpose or effect of violating his dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.

When do the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 apply?

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 apply to employment, vocational training and the administration of occupational pension schemes.  

The Regulations protect applicants for employment as well as employees. They protect contract workers, office-holders and those applying for such offices, constables, pupil and tenant barristers and those applying for pupillage or tenancy,  partners in firms and those applying for partnership, Crown servants and Parliamentary staff. 

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For more information on:

  • Are all discriminatory acts prohibited?
  • National security
  • The helping of disadvantaged groups
  • Where sexual orientation is an occupational requirement
  • Benefits
  • What about acts of other employees?
  • How are the Regulations enforced?