LGBT history in Ireland

Gemma O'Connor - Head of Service

February 28 2024

First published: February 28th 2024
Last updated: February 28th 2024

February is LGBT history month, and in Ireland, this means a chance to look back at what’s changed – both socially, and in the workplace.

LGBT history in Ireland

Social movements began in the 1970s and continued in the 1980s with protests and sanctions. Homosexuality was ultimately decriminalised in 1993, followed in 2010 by the expansion of rights for LGBTQIA+ couples with the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.

In 2015, Ireland legalised same sex marriage through a referendum – a global first through popular vote. That same year, the Gender Recognition Act 2015 provided an avenue for recognising a change in gender. Then, in 2017, came the partial lifting of the lifetime ban on blood donations by gay men.

But what’s Ireland’s LGBT history in the workplace?

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2021

LGBTQIA+ employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace through the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2021.

Since its first iteration in 1998, five years after decriminalisation, the Act already listed sexual orientation as one of the grounds upon which employees may not be discriminated.

Regarding transgender individuals, these same grounds also stated that individuals were also protected from discrimination based on their gender, which now also includes protection for transgender workers.

This precedent was set in 2011 with the Equality Tribunal decision in Hannon -v- First Direct Logistics Ltd [DEC-E2011-066].

In this case, after a transgender employee had begun transitioning, her employer told her she was to resume presenting as a man, prohibited her from using female toilets, asked her to work from home, and eventually requested that she resign.

The Equality Tribunal found in the employee’s favour, and she was awarded €35,000.

How can employers prevent discrimination in the workplace?

It’s important for employers to ensure that employees who identify as LGBTQIA+ are protected and that their workspace is safe from any form of discrimination.

So, what steps can be taken to make your workplace more inclusive?

Promoting inclusivity in the workplace

One way to combat discrimination in the workplace is by promoting inclusivity. This may include, for instance, making sure no staff member is excluded from company events. Further, employers can also strengthen equality in their workplace by providing relevant guidance to all employees on discrimination.

Education could also include dignity & respect training. This can teach your staff about various forms of unwanted and inappropriate behaviour, the effect this behaviour may have on someone, and the legislation enforcing dignity, respect, and equality.

Policies for disciplinary procedures, reporting discrimination, and dignity and respect

It’s your responsibility as an employer to deal with any incident of discrimination, and work policies can help you do so. Creating clear disciplinary procedures in your documentation can help highlight these consequences, which could lead to warnings and dismissal.

A separate policy, meanwhile, can also detail information on how to report discrimination, who to report it to, and what steps you will take to investigate. Updating your policy and procedures to encompass dignity & respect can also help prevent bullying and harassment in your business.

Can employers be taken to the Workplace Relations Commission for discrimination?

If an employee is discriminated against at your business, whether it be by you or by your employees, they can take a claim against you at the Workplace Relations Commission.
And, if the employee feels that the only option is for them to resign, this may also lead to them taking out a claim of constructive dismissal against you.

You must then be able to show that you took steps to prevent or address the discrimination. If the case is found in the employee’s favour, this could ultimately result in financial loss, undue stress, and reputational damage to the employer and/or business.

Have additional questions about preventing workplace discrimination?

It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure their workplace is free from discrimination for all, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

It’s crucial to update your policies, to learn to recognise examples of unfair treatment, to train your employees and management on the topic, and to be prepared to handle any instances of discrimination.

Have questions? Our team of subject matter experts is here to help. Call us, day or night, at 1800 719 216

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