Lesbians and gay men will get better legal protection
Some of the UK's largest employers are conducting internal audits to try and determine how many gay staff they employ.
New laws on sexual orientation come into force later this year, which will give gay and lesbian staff better protection from harassment or victimisation while at work.
The conciliation service Acas recently advised organisations to ask a question about sexual orientation on equal opportunities questionnaires.
JP Morgan, a city bank, said it would be asking staff later in the year, as part of its worldwide internal staff survey, but said the move was not tied to the new legislation.
London Fire Brigade, which has just under 7,000 employees, is one employer that has already asked staff.
Last year it asked a voluntary question on the issue, as part of its staff "census".
It said the move was aimed at promoting best practice, and was not directly allied to the new legislation.
Stonewall, which is currently advising more than 50 employers, including ten FTSE-100 companies, on equality issues said "almost all" of the firms who were already conducting audits were not forcing staff to say whether they were gay.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive, told BBC News Online that an audit, if conducted in an appropriate way, could be a useful tool.
"It is terribly difficult to establish that your making progress and reflecting the workforce if you don't count," he said.
But he dismissed concerns that firms were planning to "out" staff.
In one of the FTSE-100 companies which has 40,000 staff, for example, only three people can get access to the information, he said.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said including a question in an equal opportunities questionnaire may be a "helpful" way of ensuring the right training and support was in place.
But Neil Bentley, CBI Head of Employee Relations dismissed reports that it had been inundated with enquiries on this issue.
He said: "As a result of the legislation, firms will be reviewing equal opportunities policies to ensure they do what they can to prevent this type of discrimination, which is totally unacceptable."
"The key issue here is that employment decisions must be based on ability to do the job, not on someone someone's sexual orientation."
If my employer asked me about my sexual preferences I would tell them to mind their own business, as I would if they asked me about my religion, or any other personal information. The only thing my employer is entitled to comment on is my ability to do my job, nothing else is relevant.
Sally M, England
Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people are often invisible in the workplace - some through fear and others simply because they choose to be (as is their right). As a consequence many employers are unaware that LGBT issues concern them. An anonymous questionaire in a large organsiation is not going to jeopardise an employee's privacy but may help paint a true picture of the LGBT prescence in that workplace.
Stephen Harte, Scotland
I think that is it a very worthwhile exercise, for if someone is being racially discriminated against it may be more obvious, but for someone who is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation this is equally unacceptable.
Why does an employer need to know who is and isn't gay? Only at the point of harassment or victimization should this be taken into consideration. Victimization and harassment shouldn't be tolerated no matter what your creed, colour or sexual orientation is, the fact that legislation is required shows what little regard some employers have when it comes to these matters.
IDS, UK, Birmingham
We ask people about their ethnicity and that doesn't cause offence so why should this question. It surely can only be for the good. If your employer asks and you don't like it don't answer.
As an employer, I wouldn't dream of asking my staff about their sexual preferences. It is quite simply none of my business.
So long as non-disclosure is guaranteed not to go against an individual later - after all we still live in a very prejudised society - then it should be OK for an employer to ask whatever is deemed appropriate to ensure a good employee and a happy working environment. Of course this is true of any question; colour, religion, political beliefs etc.
I'd welcome an anonymous audit. I couldn't dream of open stating my sexuality in the office because of the revolting attitude of many of the male members of staff. They seem to think that lesbian & bisexual women are objects to be "phwoared" at rather than humans to be respected.
Tracey A, UK
It is not at all clear to me how such an audit will help gay folk. Appart from any reluctance to 'come out' in such a way, it could also help generate a backlash from heterosexual employees who might regard this as special treatment for their gay collegues.
I would far rather see stronger and more general legislative support to allow my rights and status as a gay man in a long term relationship recognised to be as valid as those of a heterosexual couple.
Once the statistics are in the bag, companies will no doubt develop policies to recruit set percentages of gay staff. Why does it matter?
Jon, Portsmouth, England
My company recently asked all employees to complete a pretty comprehensive diversity survey to ensure that they understood their workforce and that future policies and training reflected our organisational make-up. Voluntarily outting myself to HR I asked how an accurate picture of the workforce could possibly be gained unless the question of sexuality was not put alongside that of race, religion, ethnicity, educational background etc. Apparently the question was not asked because of potential offence caused. I agree with the earlier comment that if your employer asks and you don't wish to answer - then don't. I and my ilk will find policies that don't reflect an average of 10% of the workforce (probably much more since the company's many offices are based in London) considerably more offensive. If you're going to bother doing a diversity survey at least do it properly!
Andy, London, UK
About time too. I work in the city where homophobic, offensive banter is considered just "having a laugh" by managers, while staff are sent home for wearing the wrong coloured tie.
When people say "don't answer" surely they mean lie? I cant see anyone being afraid to say hetrosexual. Yes there are a lot of gays where I work, but it is a very 'male' dominated environment, so most keep it too themselves. How would a questionaire change the prejudices of 2000 other people?
Being a gay person myself I know that Gay people are generally good in particular jobs such as those jobs that require creativity or really good people skills. It may be useful information for an employer making a recruitment decision.
Is this another case of political correctness causing more problems than it solves. An individuals right to privacey in their private lives should be more important than the stupid drum beating of certain areas of the establishment who have nothing better to do the justify their own existance. Surely asking the question will cause more problems for individuals than not asking the question at all. Ignorance is in some cases quite rightly bliss!
Tim Oakman, UK
Michael's characterisation of my abilities by my sexuality is one example of why this issue has to be handled so carefully.
Gareth, United Kingdom
I think it's extremely sad that any government has to create legislation to protect certain groups. It just goes to show how narrow minded we humans are. But that said, at least the British government are doing something positive to ensure that any harassment or victimisation that takes place is dealt with. I just hope that the punishment is sufficient to deter people from making such attacks in the first place.
Paul Whelan, Spain