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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 main types of discrimination.

Direct discrimination

Is when someone is treated differently and not as well as other people because of their sex. For example, advertising for a job and stating  that it would be better suited to female applicants. It breaks down into three different sorts of direct discrimination or treating someone 'less favourably' because of:

  • their own sex (direct discrimination)
  • their perceived  sex (direct discrimination by perception)
  • their association with someone of a particular sex (direct discrimination by association).

Indirect discrimination

Can occur where a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all workers, but disadvantages people 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 sometimes be justified in particular situations.


When unwanted conduct related to a person's sex causes a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.


Treating an employee unfairly 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.

Making a claim of Sex discrimination

If an employee feels they been discriminated against, they will be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to their employer first to try to sort out the matter informally.

Claimants who wish to bring a claim to the tribunal or appeal tribunal will have to pay a fee. The first fee will be paid to issue a claim and a further fee will be payable if the claim goes to hearing. There are two levels of fee which will depend on the type of claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation, where appropriate.

Protected characteristics video

This video introduces and explains the nine protected characteristics.

Training courses - Did you know?

Acas run practical training courses to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for Skills for supervisors, Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, Employment law update and Recruitment and induction.

Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions

We can visit your organisation to help you understand what needs to be done to address a range of issues related to equality and diversity and then work with you to develop practical solutions. For example we can help you develop dignity at work or bullying and harassment policies and procedures.

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