Sex discrimination at work

Are you suffering sex discrimination at work? Get to know your rights

Discrimination at work
Support, guidance from the CSP’s Employment Relations and Union Services

What is sex discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 protects people at work in England, Scotland and Wales from sex discrimination. If you live in Northern Ireland, you are covered by a similar but separate law. 

Sex discrimination under the law ranges from the more obvious – appointing a man to a post rather than a more qualified woman – to procedures which indirectly disadvantage one sex. The most obvious form of unlawful sex discrimination is when the employer treats someone less favourably than they would someone of the opposite sex. This is direct discrimination. 

An example could be telling a woman she can’t be appointed to a job because ‘women don’t like dirty work’.

Direct discrimination also covers women who are treated negatively because they are pregnant or on maternity leave. 

Discrimination doesn’t have to be so obvious to be unlawful. An employer might be guilty of indirect discrimination if it has a way of operating that works to the disadvantage of one sex. An example would be to require an employee to work unsocial hours, which might work against women with childcare commitments. If an employer treats someone differently because they have previously complained about sex discrimination, they may be guilty of unlawful discrimination in the form of victimisation.

Harassment related to someone’s sex can also be unlawful under the Equality Act.

Should my employer publish gender pay gap reporting?

Gender pay gap reporting was introduced in 2018 for all private, voluntary, health and social care sector organisations who employ over 250 people.

Companies must produce an annual report detailing 

  • the mean and median pay gap between women and men
  • the number of women and men on the payroll 
  • by gender, the percentage who are paid a bonus 
  • the bonus pay gap 

There is no legal obligation for smaller companies to publish a gender pay gap report, although some have chosen to do so. 

The law says you have to pay everyone equally. So surely there isn’t a gender pay gap?

Across the country, there was still a gender pay gap of 7.4 per cent for full time employees and 15.5 per cent among all employees in 2020.

For staff in the NHS, equal pay for people doing the same job is not an issue. This is because, under Agenda for Change, everyone on the same grade gets paid the same basic rate. However, the law says there must also be ‘equal pay for equal value’. That is, where two jobs are different but they are considered to be of a similar level of skill, effort and responsibility they should be paid the same rate.

Is there a law against sexual harassment?        

Unlawful sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal or physical under the Equality Act 2010. If an action relating to someone’s sex violates that person’s dignity or creates an intimidating or hostile environment, that counts as unlawful harassment.

Are men covered by sex discrimination law?        

The Equality Act applies to both men and women. Physiotherapy is a female-dominated profession, although men in 2019 accounted for 22 per cent of CSP members.                            

Can people take time off for fertility treatment?        

Unfortunately, there is no legal right to time off for fertility treatment though there may be contractual rights in some workplaces. Employees undergoing IVF are protected from pregnancy discrimination as soon as they become pregnant.

Is there help for women going through a difficult menopause?            

Some women experience very debilitating symptoms due to the menopause. There are ways in which work can be made more bearable. Examples include flexible rest breaks and work patterns, paid leave for medical appointments and adjustable workplace temperatures.

Managers should conduct risk assessments with reference to menopause and perimenopause. Ideally these should be negotiated collectively rather than left to individuals to take up with management. 

Want to know more?

You can access the CSP Equality & Diversity Toolkit – a practical guide for CSP stewards, managers and members.

Concerned that you’ve faced sex discrimination at work? 

Contact your CSP steward for support or where there is no CSP steward, contact the CSP enquiries line 0207 306 6666.

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