Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace

The Equality Act prohibits sexual discrimination in the workplace. As an employer, it is important to understand what is considered as “sexual discrimination”, along with your duties and responsibilities. Failure to act or resolve a situation involving this type of discrimination could result in an employment tribunal. Gender reassignment discrimination is also covered under the Equality Act 2010.

What is classed as sexual discrimination?

Put simply, if someone has been treated less favourably due to their sex, this would be classed as sexual discrimination. This could be a situation which puts someone at a direct advantage because of their sex. More common are indirect discriminations, where someone is disadvantaged by a provision, criterion or practice (PCP). Examples include a way of working like a shift pattern or a requirement to work full-time. If a female employee has caring responsibilities, for example, they may not be able to work to a specified time.

Harassment is another form of sex discrimination and there are three different types:

  1. Degrading, humiliating or offending someone. This applies to all the protected characteristics that could be used to discriminate against someone including sex. A common example would be where a manager makes a comment about not putting women forward for promotion due to the possibility of becoming pregnant.
  2. Sexual harassment. Degrading, humiliating or offending someone in a sexual way. Also known as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature”, this would cover verbal comments including jokes and physical contact, such as touching or assault. This also applies to sending emails of a sexual nature and pornographic images.
  3. Refusal to put up with sexual harassment. This is when someone is harassed after they have refused a form of sexual harassment. For example, the denial of a promotion because an employee declined to go out for drinks with their manager.

Another form of discrimination related to sex is victimisation. If an employee makes a complaint under the Equality Act 2010 and is then treated badly by the employer, this would be victimisation. It can also apply if a supportive colleague of the person making the complaint is treated badly by an employer, for example, when making a statement as part of an employment tribunal process.

Over the years, there are many examples of employers treating their workers differently because of their sex. Any form of harassment, victimisation or discrimination towards your employee from a colleague is unacceptable. Employers need to remember they have a duty of care towards their employees. New mothers and pregnant women are also protected by certain workplace rights under the Equality Act 2010 to prohibit discrimination.

The cost of an Employment Tribunal Claim

Employment tribunal awards relating to sex discrimination are currently uncapped, which means an employer could be facing substantial losses if the claimant is successful. One well-known case resulted in an employee being awarded £180,000. A claimant might claim for a loss of earnings, pension contributions and compensation for “injury to feelings”.

The current Vento awards bands for injury to feelings discrimination claims are below:

  • Lower band £990-£9,900 (for less serious cases)
  • Middle band £9,900-£29,600 (for cases that lack merit for an upper band award)
  • Upper band £29,600-£49,300 (for the most serious cases)

Employers responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010

As an employer, you are legally responsible for any acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by anyone employed by you during their employment. It is therefore important for employers to understand the Equality Act 2010 and protective characteristics, which are covered under these rules. Your aim should be to protect your employees against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to someone’s sex.

Introduce a Sexual Discrimination Policy

  1. Introduce a Sexual Discrimination Policy – explain what is deemed as sexual discrimination and detail the repercussions of any unacceptable behaviour.
  2. Train all relevant employees such as line managers, team leaders and anyone in a supervisory role. Consider how you can effectively communicate your policy to your workers.

Do you need advice on Sexual Discrimination in the workplace?

We can provide you with a Sexual Discrimination Policy, along with guidance on how to implement this into your workplace.

If you’d like further guidance on sexual discrimination in the workplace, or employment tribunals, please contact us for friendly and professional HR advice.

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