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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Sexual orientation

Work related problem
Sexual orientation

Have I been discriminated against because of my sexual orientation?Sexual orientation More equality

If you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation or your perceived sexual orientation this may be unlawful discrimination. 

You are covered by the law if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual (LGB) or straight.

The law also covers individuals who are treated worse than others due to incorrect assumptions about their sexual orientation or because they associate with people of a particular sexual orientation.

Is all sexual orientation discrimination the same?

No. There are different types of sexual orientation discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.


The main forms are:

  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others in the same or similar circumstances because of your sexual orientation. For example: The best candidate at interview is not offered a job because the employer suspects he is gay whilst a less able candidate, whom the employer believes to be straight, is offered the post.
  • Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but has the effect of disadvantaging people on grounds of their sexual orientation. For example: A female applicant who is a lesbian applies for a high-profile job. She is well qualified and experienced for the post. Part of the recruitment exercise includes an interview with her partner, as partners are considered to play an important social role at work related events. The applicant refuses to disclose details about her partner on the grounds that the information is private. Shortly afterwards she is advised that her application is unsuccessful. If the employer fails to appoint her because she refuses to disclose details about her partner, she may be able to argue that she has been indirectly discriminated against, on the basis that LGB people are less willing to provide information about their partners.
  • Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on grounds of sexual orientation, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. For example: Workers continually subject a gay colleague to offensive comments about his private life, and he is often ridiculed in front of management and criticised about his work.  Despite complaints, management takes little action to prevent the harassment continuing.
  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of sexual orientation discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the sexual orientation law and suffered as a result. for example: A female employee is dismissed because she made an allegation of sexual orientation discrimination to their employer. Provided the complaint is made in good faith and not false, she has been victimised contrary to the legislation.

How am I protected against sexual orientation discrimination?

You are protected against sexual orientation discrimination in employment including:


  • Applying for a job
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Opportunities for training / promotion
  • Disciplinary / grievance procedures
  • The working environment
  • Dismissal / redundancy
  • Job references
  • Attendance at institutions of further and higher education


However, there are very limited circumstances where sexual orientation discrimination is allowed.  This is called genuine occupational requirement (GOR) i.e. possessing a particular sexual orientation is needed for the job.

Employers must show that being of a particular sexual orientation is a genuine and determining occupational requirement and it is ‘proportionate’ to apply that requirement in the circumstances in question. It must be necessary, as opposed to merely preferable, for the duties of the post to be performed by someone of a particular sexual orientation.


What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with your employer and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further you must notify the Labour Relations Agency. You will be offered early conciliation which can help you and your employer resolve the issue before you need to make a claim. 

4. If your complaint is still not resolved you can lodge a claim with the tribunals.  We may be able to provide you with legal representation. It is your responsibility to lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.

Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.

Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications


Useful links


Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of sexual orientation discrimination. Complaints on employment issues must be made to the tribunals within three months from the date of the discriminatory act. Even if you are attempting to resolve problems internally, the statutory time limits still apply.

If you wish to lodge a claim with the tribunals, you must first notify the Labour Relations Agency and discuss the option of early conciliation.  Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option.  Your time limit is likely to be affected by this.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim. This is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.  You still need to contact the Labour Relations Agency before you lodge a claim out of time.

< Work related problem

Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

SoMe - Sexual orientation More equality
We recognise there is an under reporting of sexual orientation discrimination and have developed a dedicated presence on social media to raise awareness of rights and how to take action:

So Me logo

SoMe (Sexual orientation More equality):


Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to sexual orientation discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel:  028 90 500 600.

Main law:

European Union law:

  • Directive 2000/78/EC - equal treatment in employment on grounds of religion and belief, disability, sexual orientation, age

Tribunal Rules

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Constitution & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Conciliation Rules - Employment: Dispute resolution

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Early Conciliation: Exemptions & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (NI) 2020

Joe is gay and in early 2009 he worked as a support professional for a global organisation.  One day during his lunch break, when chatting to two other employees, his line manager approached him and asked him to “tone down his gayness”.  Feeling belittled and uncomfortable Joe replied “I am what I am”.


After the incident he raised a grievance.  He was moved to another team and felt that this was a punishment for raising the grievance.


The Commission helped Joe with a complaint of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and his case was settled without admission of liability for a total of £6,000.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Jill's Story

Jill worked as a teacher in a special school.  At the start of her employment the principal used sexual innuendo in conversations with her and made an advance which she rebuffed.  Following this incident and the discovery that she was a lesbian, she was subjected to a campaign of less favourable treatment, bullying and harassment by the principal and vice principal.

She lodged a grievance as a result of treatment she received after she entered a civil partnership with another female employee, but resigned when her concerns were not addressed properly.

Jill’s case of sexual orientation discrimination was supported by the Commission and settled by the South East Education and Library Board for £15,000 without admission of liability.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


Another Story

A young gay man who worked as a barman was subjected to homophobic harassment by other employees and by a customer. On one occasion he discovered his colleagues had each put £20 in a glass as a bet to see who he would “come out” to first.  One of the owner’s friends would also make homophobic comments and had shouted “gay boy” across the bar to him.

When he complained about his treatment his hours were reduced and he was moved to a job in the cloakroom.  He felt this was the “last straw” and resigned.  Supported by the Commission, he took a complaint to the Industrial Tribunal.  He received £4,000 in settlement of his case without admission of liability.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements



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