Sex Discrimination

Site updated on February 17, 2020

The relevant law is now the Equality Act 2010

Effectively you are protected in the workplace,  as an ex-employee  and as a job applicant. Casual, agency and a self employed worker may also be protected.

The four areas of protection are:

  • Men
  • Women
  • People who have changed gender, or who are going through a gender change process
  • Married persons

There is no length of service required to make a claim of discrimination and the compensation available is unlimited as it includes damages to feelings and loss of earnings if you lose your job.  Once you have had a claim accepted it will be down to your Employer to produce evidence that your treatment was not down to discrimination.

The main provisions of sex discrimination legislation are:

(a) The legislation outlaws discrimination in employment on grounds of sex and marital status. This means any less favourable treatment of one sex by reason of the difference in sex. The legislation protects men, women and since 1999,  individuals who undergo gender reassignment surgery or treatment.

The Marital Status protection commenced in the 1970’s when stereotypical decisions would often be made by an employer when a woman announced an intention to get married. Marriage used to mean that a woman was more likely to leave work and start a family! The protection still exists.

(b) The protection is afforded not only to employees, but also to prospective employees – that means job applicants and individuals in the recruitment process – as well as contract workers, agency staff and self-employed workers. Discrimination protection extends to ex-employees too; so if you suffer discrimination after employment has ended, in a reference for example, you are still protected.

(c) Discrimination is permitted where being of one sex is a genuine occupational qualification for a position. Standards do change over time – for example it was once felt to be a genuine occupational qualification that a midwife was female. This would no longer be accepted. However, it is possible to specify that certain jobs can only be carried out by someone of a particular sex. So a requirement to comply with decency or privacy rights – perhaps to carry out intimate body searches or clean single sex changing rooms.  Possible examples would also be acting and modelling contracts.

(d) An employer can be responsible for the discriminatory acts of its employees. This is providing the employee was acting in the course of their employment at the time of the discrimination. Whilst there have been some interesting decisions on this, the current situation is that courts and tribunals adopt a wide interpretation of ‘acting in the course of employment’. This may well cover an act of discrimination which occurs outside of the workplace and indeed outside normal working hours.  Most discriminatory acts now carried out by employees will also become the responsibility of the employer; for example harassing a colleague.

If you are being harassed or offended on the grounds of your sex, you have rights!  For further help on this topic. talk to your Employer or union representative and refer to your Company Equal opportunities Policy, if there is one.

If you are being subject to abuse based on your sex, marital status or change of gender and wish to get further advice Contact our Advice Line.

Interview questions from Employers which ask women about family intentions are likely to be classed as sex discrimination. It is most unlikely that a man would be asked that type of question so it is discrimination on grounds of sex.

Like most claims to a tribunal, application must be made within 3 months of the act complained of.

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