Sex Discrimination

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Health Assured team

16 December 2021

As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect your staff from all types of discrimination. This includes sex discrimination.

There are steps you can take to eradicate this kind of discrimination in the workplace. We'll cover these steps later on.

This guide will cover what sex discrimination is, including the four different types. We’ll look at examples and effects of sex discrimination in the workplace too.

What is sex discrimination?

Sex discrimination means treating someone differently because of their sex or their lack of sexual identity, i.e., non-binary individuals.

The different treatment doesn’t have to be intentional. It could be a one-off action, or it could be the result of a workplace policy.

There are discrimination laws that prevent different treatment because of certain characteristics. The Equality Act (2010) protects people from different types of discrimination.

The nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010) include:

Under the Equality Act (2010) sex discrimination is unlawful. Claims of discrimination in the workplace can lead to costly fines and employment tribunals. So employers must take steps to stop it from occurring.

Who does the sex discrimination act protect?

The Equality Act (2010) makes it illegal to discriminate because:

  • Someone is (or isn't) of a particular sex.
  • Someone is of the opposite sex.
  • Of someone's connection to someone of a particular sex.

Under the Equality Act (2010), sex can refer to either male or female. It can also refer to a group of people like men, women, boys, or girls.

Types of sex discrimination

There are four types of sex discrimination. They include:

  • Direct sex discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their sex in comparison with another.
  • Indirect sex discrimination: when a workplace rule discriminates against a group of people of a different sex.
  • Sex harassment: Uninvited conduct relating to someone else’s sex. The conduct may violate a person’s dignity or create a fearful environment.
  • Sex victimisation: Treating someone differently because they have complained about or are believed to have complained about sex discrimination.

Employers must consider all types of sex discrimination in the workplace.

When is it okay to treat someone differently due to sex?

There are certain instances where it may be lawful for employers to discriminate due to sex. These instances include:

  • When recruiting a particular sex is essential for a job role. Sometimes, employers will need to recruit someone of a particular sex for privacy or decency reasons. For example, a women’s health clinic may employ female nurses to carry out sensitive procedures.
  • When employers are taking positive action. Positive action means encouraging or developing people of an underrepresented or disadvantaged sex. For example, it could mean encouraging females to apply for a job that is currently male dominated.

Examples of sex discrimination in the workplace

Sex discrimination in the workplace can occur in many different forms. The following examples should help you to understand it better.

  • Colleagues call a meeting to discuss future objectives and finances. The organiser of the meeting invites male senior leaders but doesn’t invite female senior leaders. They presume the female leaders won't have much knowledge or input into those areas.
  • A man and a woman apply for a job. They are both qualified to a similar standard and perform well in the interview. They decide to hire the woman. They believe they couldn't relate to the male worker and might not enjoy their company as much.
  • A female employee walks through the kitchen in a male-dominated workplace. Other colleagues ignore the employee and begin muttering rude remarks. The female employee tries to make conversation. But the other colleagues turn their back. The female employee feels isolated and alone. She avoids the kitchen in the future and keeps her head down at work.

Effects of sex discrimination

Sex, or gender discrimination can seriously affect an employee’s mental health. Discrimination can leave employees feeling isolated, anxious, and victimised at work. It can impair an employee's ability to carry out daily tasks and knock their confidence with colleagues.

It can also stunt professional development. In the long-term, it could see good employees leave and lead to an increase in absenteeism.

Employees who raise discrimination claims can take the case to an employment tribunal if the issue isn't investigated. This can damage your organisation's reputation. You may even incur costly fines and see staff turnover rocket sky high.

How to stop sex discrimination in the workplace

  • Have a complaints policy in place. Ensure that employees know who to go to, should they need to raise a complaint about sex discrimination. Make sure you investigate any claims straight away. Speak to all employees involved and consider the claim from all angles.
  • Provide equality training. Equality training can help employees to understand the legal and emotional implications of discrimination. Ensure employees keep up to date with training as and when it’s needed.
  • Lead by example. Organisational culture starts from the top down. If managers practice what they preach, employees are likely to do the same. Encourage senior leaders and line managers to lead by example and treat all employees equally in the workplace.
  • Review discrimination policies. Employers should review their discrimination policies each year to ensure they are still current and up to date. Consider the protected characteristics included in the Equality Act (2010). Think about how these protected characteristics may impact life in the workplace.

Protect your staff from sex discrimination with Health Assured

Health Assured offers expert advice on dealing with discrimination issues in the workplace. Our confidential whistleblowing support allows employees to confidently raise claims and feel supported throughout.

Our Employee Assistance Programme helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our multi-lingual, fully trained counsellors are ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants for help with all forms of discrimination. Call 0844 891 0353

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