Workplace Guides: Bisexual People in the Workplace

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Developing Effective Policy and Procedures

In this chapter:

Developing an inclusive sexual orientation strategy

Employment law, passed in 2003, protected all employees against discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Stonewall encourages organisations to update their policies and develop single equality schemes or specific sexual orientation strategies to ensure LGB employees are protected in the workplace. However, in some cases bisexual staff have told us they feel policies which nominally claim to be lesbian, gay and bisexual inclusive, in practice do not cover bisexual workplace issues.

Some tips for ensuring sexual orientation strategies and policies are inclusive are:

  • Sexual orientation schemes or single equality schemes should include references to bisexual inclusion with mention of the unique issues bisexual people face in the workplace
  • While recognising the value of using 'gay' as shorthand to help simplify communications, when writing policy and strategies the full 'lesbian, gay and bisexual' (LGB) should be used. Using 'gay' as shorthand for LGB in a sexual orientation strategy can give bisexual staff the impression that the policy or procedure does not apply to them
  • Sexual orientation strategies should make reference to any bisexual-specific initiatives or programmes that workplaces develop
  • Staff benefit policies should highlight that they are available to employees in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships
  • When possible, bisexual staff should be consulted when relevant policy is reviewed

Manchester City Council's Equal Opportunities in Employment policy contains a paragraph on why bisexual men and women may face unique issues in the workplace. It states, 'The Council recognises that bisexual people may be the target of specific discrimination and that their experiences often differ from those of lesbians and gay men. The Council recognises that fear of discrimination is the major factor which forces bisexual people to conceal their sexuality and to present themselves as heterosexual, lesbian or gay depending on the situation'.

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Effective bullying and harassment policies and procedures

Most organisations already have a policy or procedure for addressing homophobia and homophobic comments. However, since participants felt that their; colleagues were unaware that their behaviour was perceived as discriminatory, it is advisable for organisations to develop specific policies around tackling anti-bisexual behaviour. They should use inclusive examples around what discrimination against bisexual people may look like.

Examples of anti-bisexual bullying and harassment include:

  • Making derogatory or insulting comments about bisexuality
  • Using religious belief to justify negative treatment of bisexual staff
  • Asking a bisexual colleague intrusive questions about their private life
  • Making assumptions that because someone is bisexual they will be less able to perform well in their role
  • Ignoring or excluding a colleague from activities, including lesbian and gay events, because they are bisexual

To encourage reporting of bullying and harassment among bisexual men and women, many of whom told us that they are not out with colleagues, confidential reporting mechanisms are advisable. This is particularly true as some may not feel comfortable identifying themselves as bisexual to either their line managers or bullying and harassment advisors.
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Updating benefits and staff policies

Benefits and staff policies should apply uniformly to both opposite-sex and same-sex partners. They should not assume that someone who was married or in a same-sex relationship before cannot now be in the other type of arrangement and it is important to audit policies and benefits to ensure this. When promoting these policies, all staff regardless of sexual orientation should be made aware of them. If same-sex specific elements are only promoted to gay and lesbian staff, many bisexual staff may remain unaware of how the organisation's policies and benefits apply to them.

Make your communications inclusive:

  • Promote policies and benefits that apply to 'opposite-sex and same-sex partners'
  • Ensure that staff with responsibilities for staff benefits and polices are aware that:
    - All organisational policies and benefits extend to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners
    - Assumptions should not be made about the inquirer's sexual orientation based on their current relationship
    - Understand the need for confidentiality in relation to nominated beneficiaries of policies

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Consulting bisexual staff

Participants in the research suggested that they felt organisations that claim to have consulted with LGB staff on sexual orientation issues in the workplace have rarely consulted bisexual staff. When reviewing sexual orientation policies, organisations should consult with bisexual employees, as there may be issues which affect them that they wish to raise. This can be accomplished either through focus groups or via a network group with bisexual representation.

How can bisexual staff contribute to the diversity agenda?

  • Assist with policy development
  • Review the organisation's policies and benefits for appropriateness of language
  • Assess the organisation's marketing literature for appropriate bisexual visibility
  • Encourage the organisation to sponsor and participate in LGB events that include bisexual issues
  • Promote the organisation as a leader in LGB equality

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