Sex discrimination takes place when someone is discriminated against, victimised or harassed on the basis of their gender. The Equality Act 2010 offers protection to both men and women from discrimination attributed to their gender.
There are four types of sex discrimination:
- Direct discrimination: This is less favourable treatment because of sex. For example, stating in a job advertisement that the role is “best suited to female applicants” could be direct discrimination on the grounds of sex. There are limited circumstances where it may be lawful to require a man or woman for a role. This is known as an occupational requirement.
- Indirect discrimination: This can occur when an employer applies a policy, practice or procedure to all workers which particularly disadvantages a group of workers who are of the same sex. For example, an employer decides to change shift patterns for employees so that they work evening shifts rather than day shifts. Female employees with caring responsibilities could be at a disadvantage if the new shift pattern means they cannot pick up their children in the afternoon or evening.
- Sex and sexual harassment: Sex harassment can occur when unwanted conduct related to sex has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive environment. Sexual harassment can occur when there is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or less favourable treatment of an employee because they have rejected sexual harassment or been the victim of it.
- Victimisation: Victimisation occurs when someone is subjected to a detriment because they have made a complaint or raised a grievance about discrimination (or they intend to) or because they are assisting someone else who has complained about discrimination for example by giving evidence in proceedings (or they intend to). Examples of victimisation include dismissing, passing over for promotion or not giving a bonus to an employee because that employee has submitted a complaint about discrimination.
Compensation for discrimination is uncapped, meaning the Tribunal can award a substantial amount. The compensation can take into account financial losses and ‘injury to feelings’, intended to compensate the victim for the stress and anxiety suffered as a result of the employer’s unlawful acts of discrimination. The amount of an award may be increased if the employer has acted in a particularly malicious manner.