Sexual orientation discrimination


Makbool Javaid, Simons Muirhead and Burton Last Modified  03 December 2015

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’.