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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Sexual orientation

Providers of goods and services

What you need to know

How we can help


What does the law say?

A service provider should not refuse to provide a service, or provide a service of a lower or worse standard to service users on grounds of their sexual orientation (whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight).

What are my responsibilities as a provider of goods and services?

As a provider of goods, facilities and services you have a responsibility to ensure that your employees do not discriminate against individuals. An employee who discriminates on racial grounds will usually be regarded as acting in the course of their employment, even if you have issued express instructions not to discriminate. This is called “vicarious liability”.


However, in legal proceedings against a service provider based on the actions of an employee, it is a defence that the service provider took, ‘such steps as were reasonably practicable’ to prevent such actions. Reasonable steps would include having an equality policy, communicating it to staff and implementing it effectively. It is not a defence for the service provider simply to show that the action took place without its prior knowledge or approval.


What services are covered by the law?

  • Access to and use of any place which members of the public are permitted to enter
  • Accommodation in a hotel, boarding house or other similar establishment
  • Facilities by way of banking, insurance, finance etc
  • Facilities for education
  • Facilities for entertainment, recreation or refreshment
  • Facilities for transport or travel
  • The services of any profession or trade, or any local or other public authority

It is also unlawful, on the grounds of sexual orientation, for a service provider to harass a person to whom it provides goods, facilities or services or to harass someone who seeks to obtain any of these goods or services.

What other areas are covered?

It is unlawful for anyone selling or managing property or premises to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. For example, it would be unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent or to evict someone on the basis of their sexual orientation.


For example:

  • A landlord agrees to rent a house to Joanne and her family.  He changes his mind when he realises Joanne’s partner is female also.  The Landlord’s treatment of this family is likely to amount to direct sexual orientation discrimination.


It is also unlawful to apply discriminatory practices, publish discriminatory advertisements, instruct or put pressure on a person to do anything contrary to the law by discriminating in employment or other fields, or to knowingly aid another person to carry out such acts.


Are there any exceptions?

The only explicitly stated exception in the Regulations is where the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion. If a religious body or organisation does not wish to recruit people of a particular sexual orientation, then they will need to establish that this is necessary to comply with the doctrines of the religion.  Alternatively they will need to show that, because of the nature of the work and the context in which it is carried out, the requirement is necessary to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.

< Service providers

How we can help

We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.

Employer Training Programme

Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Bullying and harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops

We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or contact us Tel: 028 90 500 600, email



In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where we agree to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests, contact Frances Nugent, email  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Speakers for your event

If you are organising an equality related event, our staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news ezine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


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