View from the Chair: Further Steps Down Road of Equality for Sexual Orientation

Article excerpt

Byline: JOAN HARBISON

LAW now being introduced means that all employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

For many years, employers have been aware that they must treat people equally regardless of race, religion or politics, gender or disability. The new regulations will also make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. They apply only to employment and training and do not extend to goods, facilities and services.

Like all new law, employers will be anxious to find out what it means for them in practical terms and what risks they should be looking out for. The simple fact is that it extends the basic principles of equality to the additional ground of sexual orientation.

Employers are already familiar with the need to consider whether or not they are affording equality of opportunity and fair treatment between men and women, between people of different religious beliefs, or different racial group, and to people with disabilities. Now, they should also consider how the policies and practices in their workplaces might affect people with different sexual orientation - gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.

The regulations apply to all employers, regardless of size. They cover such activities as recruitment and selection, an employee's access to benefits, to promotion, transfer or training and, of course, dismissal. They also identify harassment on grounds of sexual orientation as unlawful, and define harassment as "unwanted contact which has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another person".

This definition highlights the principle which underpins these regulations and other equality law - respect for the dignity of all people. We cannot claim to respect people's dignity while tolerating discrimination against them. We cannot call ourselves an inclusive society unless we afford equality of opportunity to gay, lesbian and bisexual people and work to redress the disadvantage caused to them by homophobic prejudice. …