How to effectively manage LGBTQ+ employees in care settings

Conversations around sexual orientation and gender fluidity or reassignment can be tricky – especially when it comes to the workplace. But did you know that both sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under The Equality Act 2010?

So, just like with other protected characteristics like disability, race and religion, it’s your responsibility as an employer to take them into account and make sure you’re providing a safe, inclusive and equal work environment for everyone. And in a care setting, making sure your employees feel safe and happy will only help them look after for your service users in the best way possible.

A few terms you might want to be aware of…

  • Sexual orientation – a person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person.
  • Gender identity – a person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.
  • Non-binary – someone who doesn’t identify with a binary gender (male or female). They may identify as neither man nor woman, both man and woman, fluid between the two, or outside of that binary completely.
  • Gender reassignment – the term used to describe transitioning from one gender to another.
  • Transition/transitioning – the term used to describe the process of moving away from the gender assigned at birth towards a person’s affirmed gender.
  • Transgender man/woman – trans men are those who were assigned female at birth but identify as male. Those assigned male at birth but identifying as female may be referred to as ‘trans women’.
  • Cisgender – where someone’s gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) – a legal document which changes someone’s legal gender and provides them with a new birth certificate.

What does the law say?

The main thing you need to know is that gender reassignment discrimination is illegal in the UK. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic – so if your employees are being unfairly disadvantaged for reasons related to their sexual orientation or because they’re transgender, you could face tribunal claims and other legal repercussions.

It’s important to mention that The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t explicitly protect those who are non-binary, inter-sex or gender fluid. However, examples of case law do show that they could be protected if they’re considering, going through or have transitioned from their assigned birth sex.

Want to find out more? Check out our full HR basics for transgender employees guide!


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When claims go to tribunal…

Other than creating a more inclusive workplace, making sure you’re meeting your responsibilities under The Equality Act 2010 is important because it means you’ll avoid costly tribunal claims. Discrimination claims are uncapped and, on average, can cost between £15k – £25k to defend.

Employment tribunals: Trends, top issues, and how to get prepared

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Key considerations for employers

So what does the law look like in practice? What can you put in place to help your LGBTQ+ employees? Just answer these questions to see where you’re up to.

Policies and training

  • Do your policies deliver equality of outcomes and impact? And are they clearly enforced?
  • Do your policies include practical examples of unacceptable behaviour and best practice?
  • Do your managers understand the Equality Act 2010 and how to support trans workers?
  • If staff or residents have questions, how will you handle them in a respectful way?

Use of facilities

  • Do you have designated male and female toilets?
  • How will you make sure trans workers feel free to choose the facilities appropriate to their gender? And how will you handle complaints raised by other workers or residents who feel uncomfortable with this?

Absences from work

  • How will you manage and record absences for transitioning employees? They might have a higher rate of absence for medical reasons or other associated appointments.
  • Are you treating these absences any less favourably than you would sickness absences?


  • Do your contracts reflect your employees’ correct identity?
  • Do you have the same process in place for non-binary employees?


  • Is bullying of trans workers treated with the same amount of seriousness as other instances?
  • How will you make sure you’re aware of and can address more subtle forms of bullying? These could include excluding people from distribution lists, or deliberate use of the wrong pronouns.

Data and GDPR

  • How are you processing data relating to employee gender reassignment and history?
  • How will you make sure that trans employees aren’t “outed” due to old data emerging from your systems?
  • Do you store sensitive data on remote, secure databases? (Tip: if you’re not, you should be!)
  • How do you make sure that informal sharing of this information is prevented?

CIPD research has found that over 10% of employees have experienced their LGBTQ+ identity being disclosed without their permission.


  • Are you confident your current recruitment process and procedures don’t breach The Equality Act 2010 in relation to gender reassignment and sexual orientation?
  • Trans candidates are not required to inform you they’ve transitioned – do you know how to handle this in the event it becomes clear during the document checks?

Over 20% of LGBTQ+ workers experience discrimination during recruitment and promotion.

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