IOSH staff holding Pride flag with We support Leicester Pride written on it

Pride in occupational safety and health

How to deal with discrimination and create inclusive workplaces

A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental principle and right at work for everyone.

This includes mental wellbeing and safety for employees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Find out more about:

Discrimination in the workplace

Being treated less favourably because of your sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination.

There's different types of discrimination. It might be direct or indirect and can also take the form of victimisation or harassment.

For example, it is direct discrimination if you're denied a promotion because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is indirect discrimination if your workplace has a practice, rule or policy that applies to everyone but is less favourable to you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some countries have laws that make discrimination in the workplace illegal. For example, in Great Britain, the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate because:

  • of your sexual orientation
  • of the sexual orientation of someone you know, such as family or friends. This is discrimination by association
  • you are believed to be of a particular sexual orientation but are not
  • of gender reassignment (medical and non-medical).

The Act says gender reassignment is a personal process rather than a medical one. You do not have to undergo medical treatment or be under medical supervision to be protected as a trans person. If you self-identify as trans, you are protected by the Act.

You can read more about discrimination and the Equality Act 2010 on the Advisory, Conciliation, Arbitration and Service (ACAS) website.

IOSH at Leicester Pride

Our head office is in Leicester and we're showing our support for the LGBTQIA+ community by sponsoring Leicester Pride in September 2023.

Safe with us

At IOSH, we recognise the benefits of creating an inclusive work environment where everyone is treated fairly and can achieve their potential.

Come and join our team as we work to make all workplaces safer and healthier. 

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Advice for employees

Discrimination can happen in any area of work, including how people behave and the decisions that are made. It is not always obvious and can sometimes be dismissed as 'banter'.

Common types of discrimination include:

  • offensive jokes or pranks
  • being overlooked in recruitment or for a promotion
  • unwanted physical behaviour
  • sexual harassment.

Whether or not someone intended to cause offence, discrimination is never okay.

If you feel you're being discriminated against at work based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, there are some practical steps you can take.

  1. Write everything down. Keep a written record of specific comments, actions or events where you’ve felt discriminated against.
  2. Speak to someone impartial, such as your employee assistance programme or Acas.
  3. If you feel safe to do so, try to resolve the issue informally. Let the person know what they’ve done, what the impact was, and how they can be more inclusive in future.
  4. If you need to, speak to your human resources (HR) team or raise a formal grievance. This does not make you a troublemaker, grievance processes exists to make sure we all have positive experiences at work.

Find active allies

Allies are anyone who believes in fair and equal treatment regardless of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Finding active allies within your workplace can be a key factor in developing a more inclusive culture.

You might be able to find active allies in influential positions in your organisation. Or at least, they could be open to learning more about how they can become one. There may be an LGBTQIA+ network in your organisation. These groups are often spaces where members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies can connect, learn and work towards a more inclusive organisation.

It can be difficult to know who you can trust to talk to about LGBTQIA+ safety and health. In larger organisations, there might be someone in your HR or health and safety team who you know is an active ally for your community.

There might be advice you can share with them about what would affect you personally, or more general ideas for improving the workplace culture. You can do this whether or not you have come out at work. If you haven't, doing this might help prepare you for doing so.

How employers and managers can create inclusive workplaces

People often perform best when they can be themselves. If any of your employees are hiding anything from you, that’s a big burden they’re carrying. It can cause stress and anxiety, and make them vulnerable. You can help to ease that burden and create a safer and healthier workforce in the process. Here are some ideas for ensuring your occupational safety and health practice is LGBTQIA+ inclusive.

Develop an inclusion strategy

Research what inclusion goals your company can achieve and how you can work towards them. You can get ideas online, by speaking to experts and - most importantly - listening to people from under-represented groups in your organisation.

Write this down in a formal strategy document and track your progress towards each inclusion goal. Be authentic about how you go about this and remember to share updates with your employees.

This kind of strategy work is just as valuable for small and medium-sized enterprises as it is for large companies.

Use the right language

Make sure your company's policies are fully inclusive of the needs of LGBTQIA+ people.

Language is important, especially when it comes to contracts and terms and conditions. 

Make sure all employees understand their shared parental leave rights. Calling it shared parental leave instead of referring to maternity and paternity leave can make a difference.

Cover the mental health and psychosocial risks to minority groups in your risk assessments. This means you’re less likely to forget important topics.

Sharing pronouns

Pronouns, such as she/her/hers or they/them/theirs, are the words we use to refer to people instead of their name.

Using pronouns avoids any doubt or confusion about how to address someone. It minimises the chance of anyone being misgendered (referred to or addressed in a way that does not accurately reflect their gender) or outed (when someone's gender identity or sexual orientation is disclosed without their consent).

Sharing pronouns is an easy way to create a more inclusive workplace for trans and non-binary people, as well as those from different cultures.


Remember the importance of leadership in all aspects of safety and health, especially inclusion.

Leaders need to be able to 'walk the talk'. They do not always know everything. Often they need training to keep up to date with risks affecting their employees and the impact they can have on business.

Discussion groups

Everything you try to do should be a group effort and reflect your employees.

It's important to create opportunities for your employees of all levels to talk about issues that affect them at work.

If you have a safety and health group or an employee forum, this is a good chance to have an LGBTQIA+ discussion.

You may also want to consider the benefits of a specialist sub-group. Make sure to include both LGBTQIA+ and non- LGBTQIA+ people. This helps you to understand what inclusion looks like in your organisation at the moment, and how people want it to look.