A look at sexual orientation discrimination in practice   

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Amie Trainor
Trainee Solicitor

5 minute read

Continuing our look at LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, our latest blog focuses on the key sexual orientation discrimination case of P Allen v Paradigm Precision Burnley Ltd and Carl Wheeler, and what steps employers can put in place to help prevent discrimination of this nature from happening in their business. 

P Allen v Paradigm Precision Burnley Ltd and Carl Wheeler  

In this case, the employee was an Operations Director and candidate for a General Manager position at an engineering company. After expressing his wishes for adoption leave to his manager, as he and his partner wished to adopt a child, the employee was told the company could not facilitate a manager being off for 12 months to have a child. After this request, the employee’s sexuality became widely known and he was subject to several incidences of discriminatory behaviour, such as being called “camp” on various occasions, limp wrist gestures being made towards him, and being sent stereotypical gay characters via email and being asked what type of man he liked at work, among other incidents. 

The employee eventually resigned from his position, unable to continue his role due to the workplace behaviour he was subjected to. The employee was successful in claims of constructive unfair dismissal, direct sexual orientation discrimination, harassment relating to sexual orientation, victimisation and detrimental treatment for seeking to take adoption leave. He was awarded £174,645 by the tribunal as a result.  


What can we learn from this? 

Considering the Allen case, there are clear steps an employer can implement to make the workplace LGBTQ+ inclusive: 

Have a policy in place which is visible, monitored and reviewed regularly 

As we can see from the case above, the employer was held liable for the actions of their employees. However, a reasonable defence can be obtained by the employer if they can demonstrate they took reasonable steps to prevent such discriminatory behaviour from happening. Having both a diversity and inclusion policy and an anti-bullying/ harassment policy is a great starting point. This will not only reduce the likelihood of claims of this nature but also help to create a safe and inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees. It is not enough to simply have a policy in place, it must be regularly reviewed, made public for all employees to see and it must be monitored to ensure it remains effective.

Raise awareness in the workplace 

There are many ways to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. Rolling out training programmes for all employees on workplace harassment and LGBTQ+ issues is an effective way to ensure the workforce is educated. These steps will help employees identify the type of behaviour that is not acceptable and acts as a preventative measure. It is important that training is regularly refreshed and monitored to ensure it has had the desired impact. Raising awareness can also be achieved by hosting LGBTQ+ events and campaigns within the organisation. 

Support LGBTQ+ employees  

Creating safe spaces where LGBTQ+ employees can report incidents of harassment and/or discrimination is essential in fostering an inclusive workforce. This can be done by having LGBTQ+ working groups, mentoring programmes and clear reporting lines where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents. It is important to take all allegations seriously and investigate accordingly, as this will create a sense of trust within the organisation whereby employees in the LGBTQ+ will feel supported and empowered to report any discrimination or harassment they may be facing. 

Ensure you are up-to-date on how family-friendly employment laws impact LGBTQ+ employees 

In the Allen case, the employer dismissed the employee’s desire to take adoption leave to start a family with his partner, which ultimately was found to be detrimental treatment. To ensure you are dealing with such requests appropriately, engage in discussions on family-friendly policies (such as adoption, parental leave, shared parental leave etc) to ensure they do not cause any adverse impact to those in the LGBTQ+ community. Ensure these are legally compliant and are adhered to within the organisation. The ScotEng Legal & HR Team can assist with any queries relating to family-friendly employment policies.