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Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 

In June 2014, Parliament agreed on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and come into force on 1 December 2003.

On this page:

What protection is available to lesbian, gay and bisexual workers from December 2003?
Who is protected by the new legislation?
Are there any exceptions?
How will this legislation be enforced?
Where can I get more information about the new legislation?

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 are a result of the UK’s implementation of the 2000 EU Employment Framework Directive requiring member states of the European Union to ban sexual orientation discrimination in employment by the end of 2003.

It all started in 1997, when the heads of all EU member states agreed on a new Treaty of Amsterdam, which specifically allowed EU institutions to combat sexual orientation discrimination. Article 13 of the new Treaty of Amsterdam states:


''   Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and with the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation.  ''

In 2000, as a result of a new power to combat sexual orientation discrimination, a new Directive was agreed requiring all EU member states to ban sexual orientation discrimination, as well as other forms of discrimination listed in Article 13, in employment by the end of 2003. The UK government conducted a series of public consultation exercises with all organisations and individuals working and interested in employment equality and presented its draft Regulations to the parliament who agreed on the Regulations in June 2003.

Click here for information about the 2000 EU Employment Framework Directive

What protection is available to lesbian, gay and bisexual workers from December 2003?

New legislation bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and vocational training. This legislation specifically bans direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of sexual orientation.

According to the new Regulations, treating people less favourably than others on grounds of sexual orientation constitutes direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination means applying a provision, criterion or practice which disadvantages people of a particular sexual orientation and which is not justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate goal.

New legislation defines harassment as unwanted conduct that violates people’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

New legislation provides protection to lesbian, gay and bisexual workers throughout the entire employment relationship – from recruitment to dismissal. The ban on sexual orientation discrimination applies to terms and conditions, pay, promotions, transfers, training and dismissal.

Who is protected by the new legislation?

The new legislation protects from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation regardless of whether a person’s sexual orientation is towards people of the same sex, the opposite sex or both sexes. That means the law protects all people from sexual orientation discrimination: lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and heterosexuals/straight people.

The new legislation does not protect people only from discrimination based on their actual sexual orientation. Discrimination on the grounds of assumed sexual orientation is also banned and it is not important whether person’s sexual orientation is assumed correctly or incorrectly.

The new legislation also protects those people who are discriminated against because of sexual orientation of the people with whom they associate – their family members and friends.

The new legislation covers:

  • all employers and contract workers in Scotland, Wales and England
  • office holders
  • police
  • barristers and advocates
  • partnerships
  • trade organisations
  • qualification bodies
  • providers of vocational training
  • employment agencies

    Are there any exceptions?

    Although this is very significant legislation, which for the first time protects lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in employment, there are some areas where discrimination might still occur and would not be illegal. For example, same-sex partners might be denied certain benefits such as an occupational pension survivor’s benefit if they are specifically restricted to married partners only.

    New legislation allows discrimination where there is genuine occupational requirement, which is a ‘genuine, determining and proportionate’ reason for requiring the employee to be of a particular sexual orientation.

    Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals might also face discrimination by religious organisations. The Regulations permit sexual orientation discrimination ‘for purpose of an organised religion’ where the religion’s doctrine or where required by ‘strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers’. During the debate on the Regulations, a government minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, stressed that this exemption will only apply to a ‘very narrow range of employment: ministers of religion, plus a small number of posts outside the clergy, including those who exist to promote and represent religion’.

    New regulations also contain a general exception if there is a necessity to safeguard national security.

    How will this legislation be enforced?

    Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation can submit a complaint to employment tribunal. Cases of sexual orientation discrimination in the area of training and education will be heard by county courts. Complaints to employment tribunals must be submitted within three months of the act of discrimination and within six months to county courts.

    The burden of proof lies on the employer. This means that rather than the employee proving there has been discrimination, the employer has to demonstrate s/he has not violated the law.

    Where can I get more information about the new legislation?

    There are a number of sources of information about this legislation. Click on the links below.

    The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
    Read the text of the new legislation.

    Key questions and answers about the Employment Equality Regulations 2003
    Useful guidance on new legislation prepared by the Equality and Diversity Department of the DTI.

    Sexual Orientation and the Workplace
    Draft guidance produced by ACAS on the new legislation.

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