Coming out at work: advice for employers

Phillip Schofield and ITV co-host Holly Willoughby
Phillip Schofield with ITV co-presenter Holly Willoughby
Photo: Ian West/PA Archive/PA Images

After Phillip Schofield’s heartfelt Twitter post where he revealed he is gay, Philip Richardson, head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors, offers advice for employers wanting to support staff who have revealed they are LGBT at work.

Phillip Schofield, the presenter of ITV’s This Morning and Dancing on Ice, revealed this month that he is gay in an emotional Instagram post and television interview.

“My inner conflict contrasts with an outside world that has changed so very much for the better. Today, quite rightly, being gay is a reason to celebrate and be proud,” he said.

He also shared how his workplace had been very supportive: “At ITV, I couldn’t hope to work with more wonderful, supportive teams.”

LGBT employees are often reticent about coming out at work and worry about discrimination. Research by Stonewall, the charity that campaigns for the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, revealed that more than a third of LGBT staff have hidden the fact they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination.

Workplace bullying aimed at the LGBT community is a serious threat with one in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees having been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year.

Employer obligations for LGBT staff

Employers have a duty of care to all employees and must ensure they are not subject to unfavourable treatment as a result of their sexual orientation. This would extend to any form of discrimination in the event an employee chooses to come out at work.

Organisations are encouraged to have an open and honest workplace culture where employees can be themselves and feel supported should any discrimination take place. Having a diverse workplace should be encouraged and seen as a positive.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination and harassment at work because of their sexual orientation. Employers are legally responsible for the conduct of their staff, if an employee uses homophobic “banter” and jokes against an LGBT colleague, an employer is liable.

Staff are advised to speak with their manager first and try to sort out the matter informally. It can then be progressed to HR, a formal complaint and could go on to result in a claim at an employment tribunal. 

Managers should strive to create an inclusive and accepting culture at work. Employers are advised to support LGBT employees by:

  • Making sure staff are aware of the organisation’s policies relating to equality, bullying and harassment
  • Inviting colleagues to attend equality training
  • Challenging any homophobic comments immediately and explaining to the culprit why and how their behaviour is unacceptable
  • Having an equality and diversity officer
  • Senior staff are advised to talk positively and openly about LGBT friends and family
  • Use inclusive language at work
  • Advise staff that you are there to support them if they decide to come out at work
  • Get involved in supporting Pride and involve all staff in attending other LGBT events
  • Invite employees to complete equality monitoring exercises and take part in staff surveys to access how they feel if they are LGBT
  • Create a specific LGBT discrimination policy for managers to understand how to handle the situation should an incident occur.

It’s important for all employers to remember to create an inclusive environment at work. Some employers are better than this than others, but it should be remembered that it is not only LGBT staff who are “out” who need to be considered, but – like Schofield – employees who are thinking of coming out who should feel they can do so in the workplace, safe in the knowledge that their colleagues will support them.

Philip Richardson

About Philip Richardson

Philip Richardson is a partner and head of the employment law department at national law firm Stephensons Solicitors.
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply