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How can I support my LGBT employees - Ten ways to create an inclusive workplace

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Over the last decade, organisations in all sectors have made huge strides in supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees and creating an inclusive workplace. However, there is still work to be done as many LGBT people in the UK still choose not to disclose their sexuality at work. Research has also shown that LGBT job seekers are 5% less likely to be offered a job interview than heterosexual applicants with comparable skills and experience. In this article, our Employment Law team list our top ten tips for supporting LGBT employees, as well as explain the law protecting them and what positives can come from a more diverse workplace.  

Our top ten tips for supporting your LGBT employees

  1. You should communicate a clear mission to all of your employees, including managers and senior staff, by providing general diversity training about using appropriate terminology. You should also use this as an opportunity to promote your inclusion policies and strategies for supporting LGBT employees. You could consider appointing a Pride Officer whose role is to develop a culture of tolerance and respect. It is important to remember that it may not be your employee who is part of the LGBT community, but their family member or friend; creating a culture of tolerance avoids the risk of associative discrimination.
  1. Discrimination should be taken seriously in your recruitment and promotion practices. Having a strong anti-discrimination and harassment policy communicated to your workforce will mean they know the type of behaviour that is not tolerated in the workplace and how to report any discrimination and harassment. This allows you to effectively recognise instances of bullying or harassment and take action. If employees witness others being treated poorly and no disciplinary action is taken, it could set a bad precedent that this behaviour is seen as acceptable.
  1. Offer equal benefits to all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender or gender reassignment including parental leave, adoption leave, and time off to take care of dependants.
  1. Create a gender-neutral environment by using gender-neutral language, such as ‘partner’ instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, or ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’.
  1. Consider starting support and engagement programmes for LGBT employees such as mentoring, employee networking groups, seminars and conferences. Employees who are educated on this issue will be more prepared to influence others, challenge negative views and support colleagues on a day-to-day basis.
  1. Being aware of the working environment in your business is of paramount importance to address any problems. You can monitor your progress by tracking issues such as the number of employee grievances, completion rates of diversity training, LGBT hires and promotions.
  1. In relation to transgender employees, they may need to take time off to attend medical appointments, perhaps for mental health or counselling services, and they should be allowed such time and be paid the same as if they were attending appointments treating a physical injury. Often the specialist clinics that they need to attend will be in London and they may therefore need additional time to attend an appointment.
  1. You should ensure that your dress code allows for uniforms that are non-gender specific. A unisex uniform, or options that are open to all employees, avoids the risk of an allegation of less favourable treatment. If the uniform is required to be gender-specific, ensure that employees are provided with the uniform of the gender with which they identify. Any rules relating to hair, beards, earrings and makeup should be applicable to all employees to avoid discrimination. You should also make sure the uniform sizes on offer are appropriate and can accommodate a variety of body shapes.
  1. Have safeguards in place to preserve the privacy of your transgender employees. Within any business, managers may want to refer any issues to HR or more senior staff.  Make sure you seek the consent of your employee before doing so, explaining to them the reason why you may want to share their conversation and invite them to agree how much information will be passed on.
  1. Allow transgender employees to use the toilets and other single-sex facilities for the gender they identify with. Non-gender specific toilets may be a useful solution. Temporary measures could be put in place to allow employees to adjust and for all to feel comfortable. 

What does the law say about LGBT employees?

Sexual orientation, gender and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. A person with a protected characteristic is protected from:

  • Direct discrimination,
  • Indirect discrimination,
  • Victimisation and
  • Harassment.

This means that it is unlawful to treat employees less favourably than others because of their sexual orientation, gender or because they are taking or have taken transitional steps.

What benefits can arise for a business promoting inclusion and diversity?

Diversity in the workplace means there will be a variety of perspectives leading to more creativity, faster problem solving and better decision making. A diverse workforce also has lower employee turnover and higher employee engagement, which in turn can increase productivity and profit.

It is vital that you do all you can to ensure your LGBT employees feel comfortable and safe in your workplace, and are confident that if any issues do arise that they will be taken seriously and handled appropriately. If you would like advice on how to implement any of the above strategies, or you would like the Employment team to review your staff policies or handbooks, you can contact the Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.