The first study of the impact of the employment equality regulations, which grant protection for LGB people in the workplace, has found that many employees who go to a tribunal suffer financially and emotionally.
The regulations on sexual orientation and religion or belief were introduced in 2003.
Employees who have tried to resolve disputes over discrimination under new equality regulations have ended up facing demotion, dismissal, career changes, mental health problems including depression or anxiety, financial difficulties, relationship problems and having to move house.
Some even contemplated suicide.
Research by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) into the impact of the regulations was carried out on behalf of the conciliation and advice service Acas.
It suggests that internal workplace grievance procedures are flawed and do not provide a way to resolve these issues.
This may encourage more people to resort to an employment tribunal.
Analysis by Acas shows that between January 2004 and September 2006, 470 individuals brought employment tribunal claims where the main allegation concerned discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
461 brought cases where discrimination on grounds of religion or belief was the main claim.
Two-thirds of claims were brought by men.
From in-depth interviews with claimants it was found that sexual orientation discrimination cases were typically based on claims of bullying and harassment, including verbal abuse, physical assaults and unfair treatment by managers.
This had led to disciplinary action or demotion for poor work performance until the claimant felt they had no option but to resign.
For religion and belief cases, claims most commonly related to terms and conditions of work that made the observance of religious practices impossible – such as holiday arrangements.
There were also examples of organisations with a religious ethos reportedly discriminating in areas such as promotion on the basis that the claimant did not have a religion or was from a different faith.
The study highlighted how following internal grievance procedures to resolve disputes within organisations were regarded as being ‘futile’ by the claimants.
Complaints were made about how the submission of a grievance by an employee was often triggered by disciplinary action by employers and how they could work against achieving a satisfactory resolution.
It was also thought to be difficult to find colleagues to represent them, that there were often unnecessary delays and the involvement of unsuitable managers who, in a number of cases, were felt to have been complicit or active in the original discrimination experience.
Overall, claimants felt they did not receive a fair hearing at internal grievance procedures.
The cost of obtaining representation was seen to be a significant barrier in pursuing claims, and the lack of proper representation and the necessary understanding of the “language of the law” was seen as being a severe disadvantage in obtaining justice from employment tribunals.
IES author Ann Denvir said:
“One strong theme which emerged from both sets of claimants was the tendency of their employers to respond to their complaints by seeing them as the problem, rather than the victim of unfair treatment.
“But despite the sometimes difficult experiences of submitting an employment tribunals claim many felt the process allowed them to defend against discrimination in a way they felt unable to within the workplace and to make an important symbolic gesture.
“Justice rather than financial compensation was seen as being the main motivation.
“Overall, the interviews with claimants highlighted the crucial importance of good independent advice and representation.”
Rita Donaghy, Chair of Acas said:
“The 2003 Employment Equality Regulations provide a further step forward in outlawing discrimination in our workplaces.
“This is the first time since the new regulations came into force that sexual orientation and religion or belief at work has been subject to research.
“Acas will be looking closely at the findings from this research.
“Our website and helpline are a great starting point to access our good practice guidance.
“We already help thousands of employers and employees with workplace issues each year and will continue to develop our services in these important areas of equality.”