Sex discrimination is when you are treated unfairly either because you are a man or because you are a woman in certain situations covered by the Equality Act 2010. The treatment could be a one-off action or could be caused by a policy or rule. The treatment does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination which relates to certain listed characteristics which people may possess in the workplace. Sex is one of these protected characteristics. The others are disability, age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act 2010 says you must not be discriminated against because:

  • You are (or are not) a particular sex

  • Someone thinks you are the opposite sex (discrimination by perception)

  • You are connected to someone of a particular sex (discrimination by association).

Sex can mean either male or female or a group of people like women or girls and men or boys.

Types of sex discrimination

There are four main types of sex discrimination which include:

  • Direct discrimination – This is where someone is treated less favourably than someone of the other sex would be treated in the same circumstances.

  • Indirect discrimination – When a workplace process or rule inadvertently disadvantages one sex. For example, an employer requiring all their employees to work full-time. A lot more women have caring responsibilities for younger children or dependent adults so they would find it much more difficult than men to work full-time. Indirect discrimination can be permitted if the organisation is able to show that there is a good reason for the policy. This is known as objective justification.

  • Harassment – There are three types of harassment relating to sex:

    o Where someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded. For example, a manager makes a comment that there is no point promoting women because they go off to have children. This could be considered harassment.

    o Sexual Harassment – This is where someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded because they treat you in a sexual way. This covers verbal and physical treatment including sexual comments or jokes, touching or assault. It also covers sending messages of a sexual nature. It can also cover unfair treatment even if you have previously accepted sexual conduct.

    o When someone treats you unfairly because you refused to put up with sexual harassment.

  • Victimisation – Individuals who speak up to assert their rights under the Equality Act 2010 run the potential risk that they will be treated badly in retaliation. An example of victimisation is where a male colleague is helping a female worker with their claim of sex discrimination and makes a statement at an Employment Tribunal. The male colleague is then dismissed or treated badly by their employer. This is victimisation because of sex.

There are some circumstances when been treated differently due to sex is lawful. For example, being a particular sex is essential for the job which is known as an occupational requirement.

Another circumstance is where an organisation is taking positive action to encourage or develop people of a sex that is under-represented.

It is also unlawful to be discriminated against because you are a transgender person. This is known as gender reassignment discrimination.

It is also unlawful to discriminate against someone who is pregnant or has recently given birth.

How discrimination arises

You could be subjected to discrimination at any stage during the relationship with your employer. For example:

  • Applying for a job

  • Interviews

  • At work

  • Promotions

  • Dismissal

  • After employment ends

Equal Pay

The Equal Pay Act 1970 gives you the right to be treated equally in terms of pay in comparison to a member of the opposite sex. If you believe you are not being treated equally, you can make a complaint and bring a claim at an Employment Tribunal.

Options if you face discrimination

If you face discrimination at work, your options include:

  • Trying to resolve the situation informally by raising the issue with your line manager if the situation allows it. If the matter relates to discrimination by the line manager, you should contact another line manager or someone responsible for HR

  • Raise a grievance – If the situation cannot be resolved informally, you should raise a formal grievance setting out your complaints in writing. Ask for a copy of the employer’s grievance procedure which will set out the process your employer should follow when investigating your grievance and the likely timescales

  • Seek independent legal advice – Contact a qualified employment solicitor for advice on your options and any potential employment law claims you may have. It is importance to obtain advice at an early stage. If you are a member of a trade union, you might wish to contact a union representative for advice to assist you or act as a mediator.

  • Contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) who are a government funded organisation which provides free, impartial advice on all workplace issues.

  • Make a claim at the Employment Tribunal. There are strict time limits to bring claims so it is important to take legal advice at an early stage.

If you require advice relating to any matters of discrimination mentioned in this article or another type of employment law, please contact our employment law specialists at Farleys. Call 0845 287 0939 or contact us by email or through the online chat below.