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Tackling homophobia in the workplace

We recently looked at how to manage age discrimination in the workplace. Of course, ageing is something we all experience, but what about when the source of discrimination is a person’s sexual orientation?

With 1.7million lesbian, gay and bisexual employees in the UK, and in an economic climate in which every organisation must find ways of doing more for less, no employer can ignore their most critical resource of all – their workforce.

Research by lesbian, gay, and bisexual charity, Stonewall, shows that employees are more productive, creative, loyal and successful when they have the confidence, support, and security to truly be themselves at work.

Sadly, this research also shows that more needs to be done to achieve this in many organisations – finding that nearly one in five lesbian and gay people has experienced bullying from colleagues because of their sexual orientation. Almost 13 percent of the national workforce has witnessed verbal homophobic bullying in the workplace and over 4 per cent have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work.

Turning a blind eye to homophobic behaviour in the workplace – be it open discrimination or subtle undercurrents – can not only the impact health and wellbeing of affected employees – but can also have serious effect on the bottom line – affecting productivity and retention rates, as well as driving up recruitment costs, not to mention the potential legal fees that may be incurred.

Under the Equality Act 2010, UK workers are protected against discrimination, victimisation and harassment because of sexual orientation. Employers can be liable for the conduct of their employees, and must show that they have taken sufficient steps to prevent such behaviour taking place.

In 2013 Stonewall named Accenture employer of the year. As a large management consultancy they clearly invest a lot of time and money in ensuring employees feel accepted, regardless of sexual orientation – but that doesn’t mean that small businesses cannot be just as effective when it comes to celebrating diversity.

So what steps can you take to achieve this (and ensure compliance with the law):

–       Be aware that homophobic workplace ‘banter’ can amount to sexual orientation harassment.

–       Adopt a social media policy that sets clear standards for employee use of social media.

–       Properly investigate complaints of unlawful behaviour.

–       Take disciplinary action against any employee found to be discriminating against or harassing another.

–       Implement and adhere to rigorous equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies.

It’s no revelation that open, friendly, supportive workplaces result in higher productivity – the key is to make sure that this applies to everyone. By taking consistent and meaningful action to address working cultures and recognising the strength of their diversity, employers will be more able to unlock the full potential of their team.

If you would like assistance with implementing or updating any of your policies, investigating grievances or taking disciplinary action, please contact TurnstoneHR on 01229 615 280 or email us at for a FREE consultation.

“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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