Sex Discrimination

It is against the law for you to treat your employees unfairly because of their sex.

People who are protected by the law on sex discrimination include:

  • people who are applying for a job
  • apprentices and people on work experience
  • self-employed people who have a contract to provide a service
  • contract and agency workers
  • part-time workers.

The Equality Act 2010 also extends protection based on perception or association.  Therefore, workers are protected from being treated less favourably due to their own sex, their perceived sex, or their association with somebody of a particular sex.

"Sex" is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and it means being a woman or being a man.

Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs if you treat someone less favourably because of their sex. For example, if you choose not to promote a member of staff simply because she is female.

Indirect discrimination occurs if you have a "provision, criterion or practice" which puts a worker  (or would put them) at a disadvantage because of their sex, even though the rule does not exist in order to disadvantage them. For example, a requirement to work full time may be harder for women to fulfil as they are more likely than men to be looking after children. You are entitled to argue that the discrimination is legitimate if they can show a objective justification for the rule that leads to the discrimination.

Some common situations at work where you need to be careful to avoid sex discrimination include:

  • when a worker is applying for promotion;
  • difference in pay between workers of each gender;
  • making unfair decisions regarding access to training and development opportunities, or other benefits; and
  • making discriminatory decisions about who is chosen for redundancy.

Other aspects of sex discrimination to be aware of include:

  • the right  of workers not to be treated differently from other workers because they are pregnant, or they have been on maternity leave
  • sexual harassment - conduct towards your employees which is of a sexual nature, and is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive.
  • discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation

Note also that it is not sex discrimination against a man if a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave is given special treatment, within reason.

Your employee may decide to resign if they feel that their position at work is no longer tenable as a result of the discrimination they are suffering, in which case they may be able to claim for constructive dismissal. Furthermore, if they have been subjected by you to any detriments because of a complaint they have made (or intend to make) about their discrimination, they will also have a potential claim for victimisation.

If you would like more detailed information about sex discrimination, Ashby Cohen can help you. We specialise in employment law cases, and our years of experience as employment lawyers make us uniquely qualified to assist you with any sex discrimination issues you may have. Please contact us for an initial free telephone consultation.

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