Seven things businesses need to know about serving LGBT customers

Author: DAS Law

Date: 10/08/2016

LGBT flagOver recent months, high profile rows in America over which toilets transgender people are allowed to use have raised the issue of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in public places.

There have also been instances in the UK of LGBT discrimination by businesses such as the B&B owners who refused, on religious grounds, to let a room to a gay couple. In Northern Ireland, a bakery was found guilty of sexual orientation discrimination having refused to fill an order for a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

UK businesses found guilty of discriminating against LGBT individuals can face a fine running into tens of thousands of pounds. So if staff in a hotel, restaurant or shop are responding to a request from an LGBT individual, experts at DAS Law have compiled a list of seven points they need to keep in mind in order to be on the right side of the law.

  1. The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the grounds of what the law calls ‘a protected characteristic’. Protected characteristics include sexual orientation or gender reassignment.
  2. If you or your staff treat someone differently because of their sexual orientation, this is direct discrimination.
  3. Religious beliefs do not trump the law. If you treat someone differently because of your religious beliefs, you are in breach of the law.
  4. If your business has a policy or a rule that means, in practice, an LGBT individual is treated differently, this could be indirect discrimination. For example, if a hotel has a rule that it will only provide a double room to a couple of the opposite sex.
  5. If your staff abuse an LGBT individual or make a joke about their sexuality, this can be harassment.
  6. Cross-dressing is not a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equalities Act. However, if the cross-dressing is part of the process of changing gender, or if you perceive the individual to have a characteristic of gender reassignment and treat them differently because of this, it could still be construed as discrimination.
  7. There is no legal defence against a claim of direct discrimination.

Holly Heath, solicitor at DAS Law said: “The key thing to keep in mind when dealing with customers is that if you treat them differently because of their gender or sexuality, you could well be guilty of discrimination, and that carries a hefty fine. An award for injury to feelings alone can be up to £30,000, but that’s only the start of it. Damages for personal injury, aggravated or exemplary damages and compensation for any losses can also be included.

“The key is to ensure your staff are fully aware of the law and what it means for the way in which they respond to customers. A joke at a transgender person’s expense could prove very expensive.”

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