Gay and Lesbian Working Rights

 

About your rights
There are two basic kinds of rights at work.

First there are those you are guaranteed through the law of the land, or 
statute, such as the minimum wage.

Second you may also have some kind of contract with your employer. If you are
 an employee, this will be a contract of employment. Normally you will be given
 this when you start work (though it may be called something else such as a letter
 of appointment or staff handbook). Your job and the law explains contracts and
 the legal difference between an employee and a worker (who has fewer rights.)

Your contract provides you with specific rights that go with your job. It is likely
 to include details of issues such as holiday entitlements and disciplinary and 
grievance procedures. Your employer must honour your contract which can 
be enforced in court.

Contracts will differ in detail. This is why you will need to take expert advice if 
you think that your employer is in breach of your contract. But the courts work 
on the basis that every contract of employment contains some terms whether or 
not they are written down. Most important is the duty of care that employers 
owe employees. This means they must provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Sacked because of your sexuality?
It is relatively easy for employers to sack staff who have worked for them for 
less than a year. There are only limited grounds to argue unfair dismissal such
 as pregnancy or trade union activity.

However employers must still follow their own procedures properly.
If they do not, you may have a case for what's called wrongful dismissal. 
In this case seek advice.

After you have worked for the same employer for a year, you gain protection 
against unfair dismissal. This means that you can only be sacked fairly for 
disciplinary reasons or because you cannot do your job properly - on grounds
 of competence. This means if you can show an employment tribunal that you
 have been sacked because you are lesbian or gay, rather than on grounds of 
capability or competence, then you may win your case.
Bullying and harassment
Many employers now have policies against bullying. It is unusual for these to
 cover homophobic bullying, but, as explained above, employers owe employees
 a duty of care. You may have a legal case if your employer does not respond to
 a complaint about bullying because if they do not do so then they may be in 
breach of this contractual duty.

There is a TUC rights leaflet Bullied at work? - don't suffer in silence with advice
 on dealing with bullying. You can get it from the TUC know your rights line 
0870 600 4 882 or visit the link above.


Taking a grievance

Most employers have grievance procedures that allow you to raise problems you
 are having either with your managers or co-workers in a formal way. If the 
employer arranges a meeting to discuss the grievance, then a new right enables
 you to take either a fellow worker or a trade union official with you into the 
meeting. This applies even if your employer does not recognise unions.

Many large employers (especially in the public sector) include sexual orientation
 in their equal opportunities policies. This can give you the right to challenge 
discriminatory treatment either informally or in a grievance procedure. Just 
because an employer has a good policy on paper, it does not mean that every
 manager is even aware of it, let alone practices it.

A TUC leaflet 
You're not alone! explains your rights in grievance 
(and disciplinary) cases.

 
Pensions
A growing number of private sector pension schemes are now providing equal
 benefits for same sex and unmarried partners of pension scheme members. If 
yours does not, you may be able to pressure the scheme to change its rules in line
 with modern trends. But public sector schemes are still refusing to do so, and it 
will require a change in the law to force them to change their rules.

 
Time off for parents and carers

There are new rights to unpaid parental leave and emergency time off if you 
need to care for dependants.

Same sex partners can claim parental leave in respect of a partner's child 
if they have obtained a joint residence order.

The right to take emergency leave gives anyone the right to take 'reasonable
' time off to help people who depend on you in some way for their care. The law
is broadly drawn and 'the dependant' in this case can include your same sex 
partner, anyone who lives with you as part of your family or
 even a friend or neighbour.

However, you must let your employer know, as far as is possible, that you intend
to take emergency leave; the leave is unpaid (although good employers will pay
you); & the leave can only last as long as it takes
 to sort out the immediate problem.

The TUC leaflet 
Time off for families contains more information.


 
Other rights at work

Unions have successfully negotiated for lesbian and gay workers to have equal
 treatment when it comes to workplace benefits such as health and insurance 
schemes and travel concessions for same sex partners. If your employer does 
not provide such benefits on an equal basis, 
ask your union to negotiate for equal treatment.

However, as the law currently stands, 
you do not have a legal right to such benefits.
 
 
Things will get better

New rights are on the way. The government has agreed a European proposal to
 improve protection against discrimination at work for all groups. This will mean
 lesbians and gays will gain their first ever legal rights at work by 2003 - 
something for which the TUC has long campaigned.

Good employers will not wait for the law to change to outlaw discrimination. 
Your union can press for changes now, if you work in a unionised workplace. 
Other employers may also accept the inevitable and start to change the
 way they treat sexual orientation.
 
 
Turn to the union

Unions do not just campaign to change the law. They have negotiated with many
 employers to get a fair deal for lesbian and gay workers. Most unions have 
policy to support lesbian and gay workers. Most problems at work can be 
resolved without recourse to the law.

Many unions have set up their own structures for their lesbian, gay and bisexual
 members, which can offer support and advice. 
Some have their own telephone helplines.

Information on trade union lesbian and gay groups is provided on the 
TUC website, www.tuc.org.uk/equality, or get a copy of Lesbian and 
Gay Rights at Work, A TUC Charter for Equality from TUC publications.

If you want to join a union, but do not know which one is right for your job, 
ring 0870 600 4 882


More help and advice
TUC know your rights line 0870 600 4 882 TRADES UNION

LAGER (Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights): Unit 1G Leroy House, 
436 Essex Road, London N1, tel. 020 7704 8066 
(lesbians), 020 7704 6066 (gay men).

Lesbian and Gay Rights at Work: A TUC Charter for Equality, TUC 1999, £2.50

Your Rights at Work - a TUC Guide published by Kogan Page £7.45 (rrp £8.99)
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