We blogged last week about the “Gay Cake” case – the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland’s decision that a bakery’s refusal on religious grounds to supply a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage was unlawful discrimination (Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd & Anor).

Over recent years, the Courts and tribunals have examined the tricky interaction between the right to hold religious beliefs and protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. For instance, in the Court of Appeal cases of Ladele v London Borough of Islington [2009] (where a devout Christian Registrar refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies) and McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] (concerning a marriage counsellor’s refusal to advise homosexual and lesbian couples).

The “Gay Cake” case didn’t involve an employment relationship; Mr Lee was a customer of Ashers Bakery. However, the principles confirmed in this case relating to discrimination in the context of the supply of goods and services are still highly relevant for employers.

This month, ACAS have revised and updated their guide to Sexual Orientation : Key Points for the Workplace. It is a useful guide for employers and employees, providing a useful insight into how sexual orientation discrimination can occur in the workplace (from recruitment, pay, terms, promotion, and training, all the way through to dismissal) and how to prevent it.

Here are our top tips for employers :

  • Review your policies. Ensure that you have robust equal opportunities and anti-harassment and bullying policies in place, which set standards of behaviour for your staff and emphasise your commitment to equality of opportunity for all staff and a zero-tolerance approach to any breaches. Make sure that you publish these policies to your staff and that you enforce them consistently. Your policies need to be up-to-date and must reflect the particular needs of your workforce.
  • Remember that diversity is good for business. Employers should strive to achieve a fair, tolerant and inclusive workplace, where all employees are respected, recognised and valued regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • Regular discrimination awareness training is an absolute must. This goes for all staff, regardless of seniority. Conflicts between employees over sexual orientation and religion often arise because of assumptions, stereotyping and/or simple misunderstanding. Training should be designed to address these issues and to help staff understand what behaviour is and is not appropriate. Line managers should be trained on what to do if conflict arises.