Gay workers facing sack if lifestyle undermines 'ethos' of employers

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The Independent Online

A "loophole" in new employment legislation could mean gay and lesbian workers or even single parents are sacked if their lifestyles are deemed at odds with the "ethos" of their employers.

A "loophole" in new employment legislation could mean gay and lesbian workers or even single parents are sacked if their lifestyles are deemed at odds with the "ethos" of their employers.

Campaigners are angry that the Government is poised to allow organisations, such as churches, religious schools and charities, the power to discipline staff whose "conduct" conflicts with their views.

They say a provision in the new EU employment and race directive, which will become law in the UK next year, would allow gay and lesbian people who visit gay clubs, or who are openly homosexual, to be discriminated against.

The directive, which will be incorporated into UK law, will bring in new rules to stop discrimination against workers on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, race or religious belief. But religious organisations, including schools, will be able to discipline staff whose conduct "undermines the ethos" of the organisation.

The Government believes the directive will provide sufficient protection but lawyers say it is sure to be tested in the courts, possibly under human rights law. The clause could also be used against single mothers, unmarried couples or others whose lifestyles conflict with religious values, they warn.

Last night Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat equality spokesman, said the Government had chosen to interpret the employment directive, which is designed to protect workers against discrimination in the most illiberal way. He said the exemption offered to religious organisations "opened the door" for gay people to be targeted if they brought their partner to school or were open about their lifestyle.

"The danger is that teachers could be sacked, demoted or not appointed simply on the basis of private, legal conduct."

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "This will allow action to deal with employees' conduct and behaviour. People won't be able to be sacked because they are gay."