article icon

Employment Equality Regulations 2003

28 March 2009

In June 2003, Parliament agreed on the Employment Equality Regulations 2003, that ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief in employment and came into force in December 2003.

male couple

This page has been archived as the infomation is no longer up to date, please refer to: Equality Act 2010

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 are a result of the UK's implementation of the 2000 European Union Employment Framework Directive requiring member states of the European Union to ban sexual orientation discrimination in employment by the end of 2003.

The Race Directive outlaws discrimination on grounds of racial or ethnic origin in the areas of employment, vocational training, goods and services, social protection, education and housing. Changes to the Race Relations Act 1976 to implement the Directive come into force in July 2003.

What protection is available to workers from December 2003?

New legislation bans discrimination in employment and vocational training. This legislation specifically bans direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of sexual orientation or religious belief.

  • Treating people less favourably than others on grounds of sexual orientation or religion constitutes direct discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination means applying a provision, criterion or practice that disadvantages people of a particular sexual orientation or belief that is not justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate goal.
  • Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

New legislation provides protection to workers throughout the entire employment relationship - from recruitment to dismissal. The ban on discrimination applies to terms and conditions, pay, promotions, transfers, training and dismissal.


There are some areas where discrimination might still occur and would not be illegal

  • The legislation allows discrimination where there is genuine occupational requirement, which is a "genuine, determining and proportionate" reason for requiring the employee to be of a particular sexual orientation.
  • Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals may face discrimination by religious organisations where the religion's doctrine or where required by "strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers".
  • New regulations also contain a general exception if there is a necessity to safeguard national security.

As a result of the creation of the right to form a civil partnership the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced a change in the law with effect from 5 December 2005 providing that the civil partner will be treated in the same way as a husband or wife by marriage.


Workers who have been discriminated against can submit a complaint to an employment tribunal. Cases of sexual orientation discrimination in the area of training and education will be heard by county courts. Complaints to employment tribunals must be submitted within three months of the act of discrimination and within six months to county courts.

The burden of proof lies on the employer. This means that rather than the employee proving there has been discrimination, the employer has to demonstrate they have not violated the law.