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It’s illegal to discriminate anyone on the grounds of their sex or sexual orientation – that’s pretty straight forward. But what might not be so clear are your obligations as an employer to make sure you’re being inclusive and not discriminating against anyone in your team.
Sex discrimination is treating an employee unfavourably based on their sex. All employees have the right to not be discriminated against based on their sex or sexual orientation (along with other protected characteristics). This right is covered by the Equality Act 2010.
It’s a prominent issue in many workplaces in any of the following circumstances:
Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect, one-off or regular, intentional or unintentional. What’s important to remember though, is that it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.
There are four main types of sex discrimination: direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation. So, let’s delve into each in a little more detail.
Direct sex discrimination is when an individual is treated less favourably because of either their own sex, their perceived sex, or their association with someone of a particular sex.
Example: putting together a job description that says the position would be best suited to male applicants only.
Indirect sex discrimination is when one of your rules, practices or procedures places employees or applicants of a certain sex at a disadvantage.
Example: assuming the female member of the team will make the brews, take meeting minutes and go out and buy team presents.
It’s worth noting that for someone to make an indirect sex discrimination claim, they must be able to evidence how they were personally disadvantaged as a result, along with how the same treatment would disadvantage other employees or applicants of the same sex.
Harassment in relation to sex discrimination can be split into three categories:
This is when an employee has either made or intends to make a complaint around sex discrimination or harassment or has given or plans to give evidence relating to discrimination or harassment, and is treated adversely as a result.
Example: outcasting the employee in question from team activities and making them feel like an outsider.
Albeit very rarely, every now and then, there may be grounds to lawfully discriminate someone on the grounds of their sex.
Example 1: where it’s necessary to preserve decency or privacy (e.g. a shop assistant providing a bra-fitting service or a prison officer carrying out body searches).
Example 2: if the employee’s required to live in accommodation that isn’t equipped for people of that sex, and it’s not reasonable for the employer to make the necessary adjustments.
Example 3: if a business actively encourages a certain sex to apply for a position to balance out previously under-represented or disadvantaged roles. For example, a construction firm reiterating that female applications are welcome and encouraged.
To prevent sex discrimination rearing its head in the first place, it’s important to have a legally tight, well-communicated and followed Equal Opportunities policy in place.
Your policy should clearly express your anti-discrimination stance and what the repercussions of non-conformity are.
As well as your policy, there are a number of everyday techniques you can use prevent sex discrimination in your business, like:
How Citation can help
We’re here to help with everything from creating bespoke policies and terms and conditions of employment, to talking you through disciplinary and dismissal processes.
If you’re already a client you can contact our advice line 24/7 on 0345 844 4848.
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