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Sex discrimination

Key points

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees because of their gender. There are four types of Sex discrimination.

  1. direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived sex, or because of the sex of someone with whom they associate. An example of this could be not employing a woman purely because of her gender.
  2. indirect discrimination: can occur where there is a policy, practice or procedures that applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages workers of a particular sex. For example, a requirement that job applicants must be six feet tall could be met by significantly fewer women than men. Indirect discrimination can only be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  3. harassment: when unwanted conduct related to sex has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
  4. victimisation: unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about sex discrimination.

It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their gender. Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:

  • recruitment and selection
  • determining pay
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment.

In very limited circumstances, there are some jobs which can require that the job-holder is a man or a woman. This is known as an 'occupational requirement'. The list of occupational requirements is restricted. One example is where the job holder is likely to work in circumstances where members of one sex are in a state of undress and might reasonably object to the presence of a member of the opposite sex such as a bra-fitting service.

Positive action is only allowed where a particular  group:

  • suffers a disadvantage
  • is disproportionately under represented
  • has needs that are different from the needs of other gender groups in the workforce.

Positive action is not the same as positive discrimination, which can be regarded as preferential treatment of member of a minority group; this is illegal in Great Britain.

If you feel you've been discriminated against, you'll be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to your employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.

Through the Acas Helpline (0300 123 1100) you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation or Acas Dispute Resolution, where appropriate.

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Acas Helpline

Call our Helpline on 0300 123 1100 for free support and advice or to check your workplace policies and practices. The Acas Helpline provides free and impartial advice for employers, employees and representatives on a range of employment relations, employment rights, HR and management issues.

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Helpline number: 0300 123 1100
Monday-Friday: 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-1pm

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