Ask the panel

April 20, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'Recent comments in the press suggest that there is now an obligation on a university to promote gay or lesbian relationships and to make sure that services the university offers, such as the provision of accommodation for same-sex couples, are available for staff and students. Is that correct?'

* Our panellist from the Equality Challenge Unit says: "No, there is currently no legal obligation on a university to promote gay or lesbian relationships, but the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations require that universities ensure that gay and lesbian staff and students are not treated less favourably by reason of their sexual orientation.

"The regulations also prevent a university from having practices or procedures that, intentionally or otherwise, disadvantage people of a particular sexual orientation unless those practices or procedures can be justified.

"In practice, this means that a university must not run the provision of accommodation and other services in a way that disadvantages gay and lesbian staff or students without good reason.

"And if, for example, accommodation is provided for opposite-sex couples it must also be provided for same-sex couples.

"Making sure that existing practices do not unfairly disadvantage gay and lesbian staff and students is not the same as promoting gay and lesbian relationships."

* The panellist from The Universities and Colleges Employers Association' says: "The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which came into force on December 1, 2003, outlaw discrimination against workers or job applicants because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The benefits that employers provide for employees would be covered by this.

"There are specific duties in higher education and on all public sector organisations to actually 'promote' equality in relation to race, disability and now gender, but not sexual orientation, religion or belief.

"It is not unlawful to restrict access to certain benefits to people who are married or in a civil partnership, and it is possible that institutions may apply this restriction to accommodation.

"The equality and diversity section of the arbitration service Acas website, www.acas.org.uk provides detailed information for both employers and employees."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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