Why the Boss May Soon Be Asking: Are You Gay?

Article excerpt

Byline: DARREN BEHAR

MAJOR employers are planning to ask staff if they are homosexual in an attempt to cut the risk of huge claims under new discrimination laws, it emerged yesterday.

The legislation, which comes into effect later this year, will allow employees to claim unlimited compensation.

It builds on the sex and race relations rules introduced in the 1970s, which have already led to massive payouts in the City. Bosses' concerns have been heightened by a warning that ignorance of sexual orientations will be no defence.

Now some of Britain's biggest companies are trying to monitor how many gay or lesbian staff they employ.

The London Fire Brigade has put the question to its 7,000 staff, who answered anonymously.

BT says 'the jury is still out' on whether it will take similar action.

Eversheds, one of Britain's biggest law firms, has set up an independent review committee on the legislation and says it would consider asking staff their sexual orientation.

The merchant bank JP Morgan has added the question to its annual staff survey, although it says the move is designed to help it better understand their needs, rather than as a response to the legislation.

The laws, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, take effect in December.

The conciliation service Acas has drafted guidance which says: 'Organisations may consider askinga question about sexual orientation on their equal opportunities questionnaire.' Employers could ask new staff when they join, while existing employees would inform the company when records were updated.

Many firms update their questionnaires annually.

Most firms would make the question voluntary and staff could reply anonymously.

But the Confederation of British Industry has called for clearer guidance on the legislation. Neil Bentley, head of employee relations-said: 'Employers need to be sensitive about sexual orientation, especially if they decide to ascertain what proportion of their staff are gay or lesbian.

'But it will be difficult to introduce measures to cope with an issue which is largely hidden.' Moves to monitor staff have been criticised by civil liberty groups, however. …