LGBT+ employees more likely to experience harassment at work, CIPD report finds

Experts call for businesses to adopt ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to discrimination, as study reveals one in five trans workers feel unsafe at work

LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience conflict and harassment at work than their heterosexual and cisgender colleagues, research from the CIPD has found.

A study of more than 15,000 workers found that two in five (40 per cent) LGB+ employees and more than half (55 per cent) of trans workers experienced conflict in the workplace over the last 12 months, compared to just three in 10 (29 per cent) heterosexual and cisgender employees.

The survey, part of the CIPD’s LGBT+ working lives report, also found 16 per cent of LGB+ workers and 18 per cent of trans employees felt psychologically unsafe in the workplace, compared with just 10 per cent of heterosexual workers.

The CIPD has called for employers to set clear expectations over what was acceptable behaviour at work, and to provide managers with guidance on how to report and deal with the consequences of conflict.

Businesses should also build a peer support and allyship network that LGBT+ employees can access, the report said.

The survey found that LGBT+ employees were more likely to report that work had a negative impact on their health. Only a quarter (26 per cent) of trans employees and a third (35 per cent) of LGB+ employees said work had a positive impact on their health, compared to almost two in five (38 per cent) heterosexual workers.

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Kate Williams, associate director of workplaces at LGBT+ charity Stonewall, said these figures were “another upsetting reminder” of the abuse and harassment LGBT+ people still faced in the workplace.

“Our own research shows more than a third (35 per cent) of LGBT+ staff have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination, and one in four (26 per cent) trans people aren’t open with anyone at work about being trans,” Williams said.

“Employers must be clear that they have a zero-tolerance approach to anti-LGBT+ discrimination and take steps to ensure that all their lesbian, gay, bi and trans staff are safe, confident and supported at their workplace.”

Laurence Webb, deputy director of inclusion at the LGBT Foundation, said discrimination at work could be very harmful to the individual: “Being comfortable to be yourself at work is a prerequisite for a happy and successful career and life.” 

Webb added that as well as discrimination at work, levels of sexual harassment and abuse faced by LGBT+ workers were “alarmingly high”. “These experiences in work can carry through to an employee’s personal life and can cause significant detriment to a person’s mental health and overall wellbeing,” they said.

Employers needed to show their commitment to providing safe and inclusive workplaces by investing in LGBT+ training and accreditation programmes, Webb said, as well as by consulting with their LGBT+ staff: “All employers have a responsibility to ensure that they create safe and inclusive workplaces where all employees are able to achieve their full potential. Embracing diversity, promoting equity and providing inclusive spaces is important within every workplace.” 

Helen Jones, chief executive of MindOut: LGBTQ Mental Health Service, said the issues facing LGBT+ people at work have been known for many years. “Far too many people are unable to be out at work about their sexual orientation, their trans status and/or their mental health,” she said.

“This creates huge and damaging stress. Employers must act, inform and educate themselves; workplaces must become safe and affirmative.”