Section 11(a) of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits sex discrimination.  It applies equally to both men and women and prevents direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of a persons gender.

Women are the most commonly discriminated against group, nevertheless the sex discrimination legislation covers both sexes and will therefore protect both men and women from suffering a disadvantage in the workplace.  It is worth noting that the legislation will still apply if the perpetrator is of the same sex as the victim.  In other words, a man treating another man less favourably than he would a woman will still find himself falling foul of the Equality Act.

There are four main forms of sex discrimination prohibited by the Equality Act 2010.

  • Direct Discrimination
  • Indirect Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation

Direct sex discrimination is treating a person less favourably because of their gender.  This could cover any situation in an employment setting in which men and women are treated differently.  For example, an NHS Trust insisting that a male doctor has a chaperone when he sees patients but not insisting on a chaperone for female doctors would be discrimination.  Direct discrimination might also occur where an organisation decides upon a policy of positive discrimination and actively seeks women for senior-executive role as in the case of ACAS v Taylor EAT/788/97.

Of course, not all cases in which men and women are treated differently will amount to discrimination.  If a man is selected ahead of a woman for a promotion but that selection is based on his capability and experience, and not the fact that he is a man, then his selection would not be discriminatory.

Indirect sex discrimination occurs when a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ (rule or arrangement) is applied universally (seemingly not discriminatory in its intentions), but is in practice proportionally more disadvantageous to an individual or a group of people of a particular gender.   An employer can justify a provision, criterion or practice is they can show that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim(the defence of justification)

A good example of indirect sex discrimination would be the case of part-time workers.  If a company has a policy of not allowing part-time work then, since more women are responsible for childcare than men, such a ban could contravene the anti-gender discrimination legislation within the Equality Act.

Harassment is any unwanted conduct which has the effect of violating a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment will be considered harassment.  A tribunal would consider the perception of the victim, other circumstances in the case and whether is is reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.

Victimisation  describes the situation in which a person is treated less favourably because they have made a complaint or intend to make a complaint about discrimination or harassment.  This might cover a situation in which a person is dismissed because their complaints about the unwanted conduct of colleagues have been seen as causing trouble and lacking in team spirit.

If you feel as though you have suffered from discrimination in the workplace then please contact our free, no obligation, legal helpline on 0800 014 8727 for advice and information.  We can help you decide how best to approach the situation and what to do next.