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.
Many employers have also found that making changes to their working practices makes good business sense and helps them attract the best people, including provisions for flexible working.
Questions and answers
What is sex discrimination?
Sex discrimination is discrimination on the ground of sex. All terms and conditions of employment are covered. It also includes applying a 'provision, criterion or practice' which, although it applies to men and women equally, puts women at a disadvantage compared to men and which the employer cannot show is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Such an example could be a requirement to work full time.
What does sex discrimination cover?
Sex discrimination covers four areas:
- direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived sex, or because of the sex of someone with whom they associate
- 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
- 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
- victimisation: unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about sex discrimination.
What can I do if I think I've been discriminated against?
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 (08457 47 47 47) you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as mediation or Pre-Claim Conciliation, where appropriate.
Am I protected from sex discrimination at work?
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must not discriminate because of sex, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, or because you intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment.
Can jobs ever be restricted to one sex?
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.
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:
- Improving supervisor skills
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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. Find out more.
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