There are very strict laws in place regarding gender (sex) discrimination as there are with other issues such as discrimination because of race or disability.
What Does the Law Cover?The law protects anybody from being directly or indirectly discriminated against on account of their gender. Direct discrimination would include treating somebody less favourably than others due to their sex and indirect discrimination includes things such as applying rules within the workplace which disadvantages females against males and vice versa.
The law also includes fairness for both sexes in the way in which an employer recruits trains, promotes and dismisses staff which has to be the same for both men and women. It would also incorporate things like pay. Both men and women are legally entitled to the same pay and conditions if their jobs are the same or very similar.
It also prevents women from being discriminated against on the grounds of their entitlement to take Maternity Leave, coming back from maternity leave or their wish to keep working whilst pregnant, although there is other legislation in place in terms of having to take maternity leave by a particular time before they are due to give birth.
You do not have to have been with your employer for any specific length of time to be covered by the legislation and you can still make a claim whether or not you are still working with the company, although if you have left the company as a result of actual or perceived discrimination, you will have to make a claim within a set period of time.
PenaltiesEmployers should be very careful in ensuring that people are not discriminated against because of their sex as the penalties can be very high due to the fact that there is no upper limit of compensation the employer would be liable to pay if a claim brought against them was upheld.
What to do if You Think its Happening to YouYou should firstly look to try and resolve any issues internally by speaking to your employer, to a HR manager or to a union representative, if you have one, and explain why you feel that you have a grievance. Your company will often have an Equal Opportunities policy so you should ask to see it to back up any claim you may wish to make. If the problem is still not resolved, you should make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure so that the complaint can be logged in written form and it should then be dealt with appropriately. As a last resort, you can take your employer to an Employment Tribunal.
ExceptionsThere are some exceptions to the law in that it is possible to offer a job to someone of a particular sex if the work is exempt from gender discrimination legislation. This could include teaching in single sex schools, jobs in welfare services, e.g. the right to employ a female in a woman’s refuge and also in film or theatre where an acting role can only be played by a man or a woman.
These types of exceptions are strictly governed under what is termed a ‘Genuine Occupational Qualification’ or GOQ which states that the duties or nature of a specific job demand that the employee is of a particular gender.
Gender ReassignmentIt is also unlawful, in the majority of cases, to discriminate where a man or a woman is having, has undergone or is intending to undergo gender reassignment.
If you are in any doubt about whether you have grounds to make a case of gender discrimination against your employer, you should seek legal advice or enquire via your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.