Your Rights

This is the area of the site where you can learn about the issues affecting lesbian and bisexual women and their families in Northern Ireland. If you don’t see the information you were looking for, please let us know.

There are laws in place to protect lesbian and gay people in the workplace so it is important to know your rights!

See below for information on:

  • Discrimination in the workplace
  • Goods, facilities and services
  • Exceptions to the law
  • Some useful definitions
  • Resources/links
  • Discrimination at work

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003 makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in the work place on the grounds of sexual orientation.

It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you on the grounds of your sexual orientation or your perceived sexual orientation. The law defines sexual orientation as follows:

  • Orientation towards someone of the same sex (gay or lesbian/ homosexual)
  • Orientation towards someone of the opposite sex (straight /heterosexual)
  • Orientation towards both sexes (bisexual)
    Discrimination at work happens when one employee is treated less favourably than another on the grounds of sexual orientation. This is unlawful discrimination and action can be taken.

The law against sexual orientation discrimination at work covers:

  • Recruitment
  • Terms and conditions
  • Pay and benefits
  • Status
  • Training
  • Promotion
  • Transfer opportunities
  • Redundancy
  • Dismissal

Terms of service

It is illegal for a service provider to offer an individual service on terms that are not equal to those offered to other people. This includes charging more for a service, imposing extra conditions or obstacles.

Less favourable treatment

It is unlawful for a service provider to treat an individual less favourably than others based on their sexual orientation. This is not the same as bad treatment that is unrelated to the individual’s sexual orientation.

The disposal of premises

It is unlawful for a person or company with the power to dispose of premises to discriminate against any individual on the basis of sexual orientation. This includes the terms on which the offer to dispose of said premises; by refusing an application for those premises.

Goods, facilities and services

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 protects people in Northern Ireland who are lesbian, gay or bisexual from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management and disposal of premises, the provision of education and the exercise of public functions. This legislation also covers housing, advertisements and private clubs.

Under these regulations it is unlawful for anyone concerned with the provision of such services to discriminate against or deliberately omit someone because of their sexuality, perceived or otherwise. It also covers the quality of service and makes it unlawful for anyone to receive a lower standard of service on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

For goods, facilities and services the law imposes a duty on service providers and others to ensure that individuals are not unlawfully treated less favourably on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Refusal of service

It is illegal for a service provider to refuse service to anyone based on their (perceived) sexual orientation, which it offers to others. The service provider is under legal obligation to provide the service to everyone equally whether he/she feels it will raise objections from other customers.

Providing a lower/ inferior standard or quality of service

It is unlawful for a service provider to offer an individual or group of individuals a lower standard of service based on their sexual orientation. It is also unlawful for services to be provided in a worse manner, this includes being rude, hostile or less courteous treatment of those on a list for housing (such as overlooking someone of a certain sexual orientation).

Are there any exceptions to these laws?

Genuine Occupational Requirement (‘GOR’)

An employee or applicant can be treated differently on the grounds of sexual orientation if this is a genuine occupational requirement for that particular post. A ‘GOR’ exception can only be claimed if some or all the duties of the job are covered by the exception and there is no other employee who could deal with such duties without inconvenience.

Organized religion exception

This exception only applies to employment for the purposes of organized religion such as a priest or minister etc. It is highly unlikely that it would apply where a person is employed for another purpose such as education or healthcare. Thus it could not be claimed when employing teachers for a faith based school etc.

Disposal of Premises

Owner-occupiers: The regulations do not apply to an owner-occupier if that person owns an estate or interest in the premises and if that person wholly occupies that premises.

Small Dwellings: This exception applies only to residential accommodation and is in place to protect the individuals right to privacy in their own home. A number of conditions need to be satisfied before this exemption can be used.

The relevant occupier must:

  • Reside on the premises
  • Intend to continue residence there
  • Be sharing accommodation with people who are not members of that occupiers household i.e. a kitchen or bathroom.
  • The shared accommodation must not be storage accommodation or a means of access.
  • Must be small premises (for details on small premises please see page 29 of “Eliminating sexual orientation in Northern Ireland: A guide on the provision of goods facilities and services” ).


Goods – groceries, cars, computers etc. This term generally means any item for sale.

Facilities – this covers anything from resources for doing something such as hire of equipment or meeting rooms and banking facilities for saving money.

Services – this is help or work from another such as supply of food in a restaurant or the electricity supplied to your home by a company.

Direct discrimination – Direct discrimination is the blatant and obvious treatment of an individual, group or organisation less favourably than others on the grounds of sexual orientation. Direct discrimination is unlawful whether it is intentional or not.

Indirect discrimination – Indirect discrimination is much more subtle and perhaps not always intentional but is nonetheless illegal. Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice has the effect of putting people of a particular sexual orientation at a disadvantage, unless the provision can be objectively justified.

Victimisation – This occurs when someone is treated less favourably because they have already complained or intend to complain of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Harrassment – Harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

There are many practices that may be defined as harassment. Some examples include physical assault, jokes, taunts, banter, insults and innuendos, nicknames teasing, name calling, songs, threatening to out a person and referring to a lesbian using male nicknames or pronouns etc. Harassment can also take the form of emails, pictures, graffiti or even criticising another person’s work unfairly.

Resources & more information

Much of the information contained above was taken from documents which were developed and produced by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland: “Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Northern Ireland – The Law and Good Practice” (2004) and “Eliminating sexual orientation in Northern Ireland: A guide on the provision of goods facilities and services”.

For more information or for free and confidential advice on any matter of concern please contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on 02890 890 890 or look for further information on their website –

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