Are your HR policies inclusive when it comes to sexual orientation discrimination?

Jun 10, 2024 | Good Management

Creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, is not only a moral imperative but also a sensible business strategy, protecting against legal claims as well as assisting recruitment, retention and employee engagement. Even if your small business doesn’t have many policies, there may be steps you can take to make them more inclusive.

Crafting a comprehensive equality policy

An equality policy should serve as your organisation’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. This policy should emphasise the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion to your business, give examples and definitions of discrimination, outline how employees can raise concerns, and highlight possible sanctions for breaches of the policy.

In terms of sexual orientation inclusion specifically, giving examples of what would be considered discriminatory behaviour on the grounds of that protected characteristic can ensure absolute clarity and help drive the right behaviour.

Anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies

You may also want to consider having a separate anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy. This policy could explicitly mention harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, and clearly define and give examples of what would constitute unacceptable behaviours and language

Data protection policy

Information about someone’s sexual orientation is ‘special category’ personal data, so be careful when processing details of sexual orientation, and ensure you have a legitimate basis for doing so, such as for equality monitoring purposes.

Family leave and personal support policies

Many small businesses will have policies on the various types of family leave, and policies around dependants, compassionate leave or similar. Make sure these are inclusive of those in a same sex partnership – for example paternity leave is not just available to the child’s father, but could equally apply to the mother’s same sex partner.

Similarly adoption leave could apply to an adoptive parent of either sex, including those in a same sex partnership. Policies referring to ‘spouse’ can be amended to include civil partner.

If you are either providing a policy or signposting to external resources when it comes to domestic abuse or other challenging situations an employee may find themselves in personally, you can also ensure that resources are inclusive of those in same sex relationships.

Policies around international travel

Although small businesses are clearly less likely to have members of staff relocating overseas, many SMEs do have employees needing to travel abroad frequently. There are still many countries in the world where lesbian and gay relationships are either against the law or where discrimination against or harassment of those perceived to be in a same sex relationship is common place and considered acceptable. 

Ensure that colleagues who are in roles that might involve travel abroad feel able to raise concerns about travelling to these countries, are provided with support, and where appropriate, substituted with another employee if necessary.


Review the benefits you are offering both in terms of the provision and also the language used in policies/literature for inclusion when it comes to sexual orientation discrimination. Where partners are included in benefits or discounts, it should be clear that that includes same sex partners, for example, and again references to spouse altered to include civil partner.

Suppliers’, clients’ or partner organisations’ policies

Obviously the level of control you have over policies adopted by suppliers to your business or other businesses you are in partnership with in some way may be very limited, and their impact on your employees may not be significant at all, but in terms of the practical impact and also the message you are sending to your lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, it can be worth reviewing these and where appropriate, raising concerns you may have. If employees spend a lot of time on a client site, for example, their internal policies may very well be relevant to your employees’ workplace experience.

Effective communication and training

Of course inclusive policies will have very little impact if they just sit in a drawer and are not read, understood or followed. Ensure all employees are well-informed about your policies and understand how these policies affect their work. Make them easily accessible and provide regular training for managers to apply them fairly and consistently.

By taking these steps, you can create a workplace where all employees feel valued and respected, driving both morale and business success.

If you’d like further advice on ensuring your HR policies are inclusive when it comes to sexual orientation discrimination, do get in touch.