Last updated: September 21, 2022
Coming out at work
Unfortunately, many LGBT+ workers still today don’t feel comfortable coming out at work. This means they do not, or do not want to, disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is often due to fears of discrimination.
While coming out at work can be scary to think about, it is vital to remember that you should be able to be your true self and be confident in who you are, no matter where you are.
What does the law say?
LGBT+ workers are protected by the Equality Act 2010. It is illegal to discriminate based on your sexual orientation or gender identity.
If you fear that you will be discriminated against at work because you are LGBT+, you should speak to your union Rep or employer for support. If you fear discrimination from your employer, you should contact Community for support.
What are the benefits of coming out at work?
There are many benefits to coming out at work. This can include:
- Emotional benefits.
- Being your true self.
- Increased job satisfaction.
- Lower levels of stress and anxiety.
- A better relationship with your colleagues.
- Connect with other LGBT+ colleagues.
- Having open channels of dialogue at work about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Do I have to come out at work?
Not at all – it is ultimately your decision whether or not you come out.
How to come out at work
There is no set way to come out at work and this experience is unique to everyone who goes through it. You should only come out when you feel comfortable to do so and should not feel pressured into coming out.
If you are considering coming out, you may want to consider these options:
- Get it out there – Rip the plaster off, take control and own your sexual orientation or gender identity and announce it to everyone.
- Let it happen naturally – You could drop your partner’s name into conversation or bring up your sexual orientation or gender identity as part of a casual conversation.
- Ask others to do it – If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your sexual orientation or gender identity, you could ask someone such as your trade union Rep or colleague to let others know for you.
- Do it selectively – You might feel more comfortable to start off by telling colleagues you are happy with telling and slowly telling more people over time.
- Ask your employer – If you feel it right, you may want to ask your employer to inform your colleagues about your sexual orientation or gender identity.
What should my employer do?
It is your employer’s duty to ensure that you are safe at work, including safe from discrimination.
If you fear that you will face discrimination or are the victim of discrimination because of being LGBT+, we would advise that you speak to your union Rep and employer immediately for support. If this is not resolved informally, then a formal complaint can be made, or the case can be escalated to an employment tribunal. You should inform Community immediately if you intend to do this, as our legal team may be able to provide advice and support you through this process.
Employers have a responsibility to create an inclusive working environment and support any LGBT+ workers. This can include:
- Making employees aware of any policies relating to equality, discrimination, bullying and harassment or putting these policies in place.
- Having a dedicated equalities officer or Rep. Click here to find out more about becoming a Community Equalities Representative.
- Hosting equality training and encouraging all employees to take part.
- Challenging any instances of discrimination or bullying related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Encouraging open conversation about being LGBT+ or having LGBT+ family or friends.
- Supporting LGBT+ events such as Pride or National Coming Out Day.
If your employer is discriminating against you for being LGBT+, contact Community immediately for support.
What to do if you are ‘outed’ at work?
You should be able to come out as and when you see fit. Being outed before you are ready can lead to feelings of humiliation and anxiety.
If your sexual orientation or gender identity is made public without your consent, this may be considered harassment or unlawful discrimination, depending on how it was disclosed.
If you are outed at work before you are ready, you should immediately speak with your union Rep or employer for support. If you are outed by your employer, you should contact Community.
How can I help a colleague with coming out?
That’s great that you want to support your colleague. Here are some ways you can actively support them in coming out:
- Respect their privacy – don’t out them without their consent.
- Be sensitive when asking questions.
- Offer your support for whenever they need it e.g., finding LGBT+ support groups or helping to change workplace policies and attitudes toward LGBT+ people and issues.
You can also indirectly support your colleague by supporting all activity which encourages creating an LGBT+ inclusive workplace. This can include encouraging your employer to regularly update workplace policies, encourage equality training and workshops or celebrate LGBT+ events at work.
If you are not LGBT+ and want to support your colleagues, you can find our guidance on LGBT+ rights at work here.
If you are passionate about LGBT+ issues and rights, you may also want to consider becoming a Community Equalities Rep. In this role, you can ensure that the voices of LGBT+ workers are heard and that your workplace policies reflect this.
If you need help or advice, please contact us at email@example.com or on 0800 389 6332.