The Equality Act 2010 provides rights under sex discrimination at work, in education, as a consumer and in public services and makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees because of their gender. There are four different types of sex discrimination:
This occurs when someone treats you worse that someone of the opposite sex in a similar situation, because of your sex. An example of this is an employer not hiring a woman because of their gender. Additionally, direct discrimination can occur as:
- Discrimination by perception which occurs when someone is discriminated because of their perceived sex, or
- Discrimination by association which occurs when you are discriminated against because you are connected to someone of a particular sex.
Indirect discrimination occurs when an organisation has a policy, practice or procedure which applies in the same way to both men and women but has demonstrated the impact of disadvantaging those 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. However, indirect discrimination can be justified if the organisation is able to show that there is a good reason for the practice.
Harassment in relation to sex can take three forms:
- The first type of harassment applies to all protected characteristics. This occurs when some when unwanted conduct related to a person’s 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.
- The second type of harassment is sexual harassment. This occurs when someone makes you feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended because they treat you in a sexual way. This is referred to as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. Examples of this include unwelcome physical contact, sexual comments and displaying sexually graphic pictures.
- The third type occurs when someone treats you unfairly because you refused to put up with sexual harassment. This can also cover unfair treatment even if you previously accepted sexual conduct.
Harassment can never be justified. However, if an organisation can show it did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from behaving like that, you will not be able to make a claim for harassment against it, although you could make a claim against the harasser.
This is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint, or are supporting someone who has made a complaint, of sex-related discrimination under that Equality Act.
Circumstances when being treated differently due to sex is justified
There are limited circumstances where differential treatment between men and women is lawful. For example:
- An occupational requirement may mean that being a particular sex is essential to the role. This includes jobs which may require a particular sex for reasons of privacy and dignity, such as a changing room attendant.
- An organisation may take positive action to encourage or develop people of a sex that is under-represented or disadvantaged in a role or activity.
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 may be able to make a complaint, or bring a claim to an employment tribunal.
If you wanted to do this, you would need to compare yourself to someone of the opposite sex who works for the same employer as you. You would need to be able to show that you:
- are doing like work. This means work which is the same or broadly similar to that of the other person, or
- are doing work which has been rated as equivalent to the other person’s role under a job evaluation study
- are doing work which is of equal value to that of the other person. For example, you need to use a similar amount of effort, skill and decision-making abilities.
Information and Support
ACAS Equal Pay Guidance
EHRC Sexual Harassment Technical Guidance
Return to our main page on protected characteristics.