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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.


Providers of goods and services

What you need to know

How we can help



What does the law say?

It is unlawful for you to discriminate against individuals on grounds of sex (including gender reassignment and pregnancy/maternity) by:


  • refusing to provide a service which you offer to or provide to the public; for example, you refuse to rent your flat to a man who has undergone gender reassignment, because you think the other tenants will feel uncomfortable
  • providing service of a lower (inferior) standard or quality; for example, you refuse to allow a woman access to the snooker table in your pub because you think she can’t play and will damage the table. No man has ever been refused access
  • providing service in a worse manner; for example, you ignore a woman in your car parts shop even though she is next and serve a man instead. When she is eventually able to place her order, you are hostile and rude
  • providing service on less favourable terms; for example, charging men more to get into your nightclub than women

What are my responsibilities as a provider of goods and services?

As a provider of goods, facilities and services you have a responsibility to ensure that your employees do not discriminate against individuals. An employee who discriminates on racial grounds will usually be regarded as acting in the course of their employment, even if you have issued express instructions not to discriminate. This is called “vicarious liability”.


However, in legal proceedings against a service provider based on the actions of an employee, it is a defence that the service provider took, ‘such steps as were reasonably practicable’ to prevent such actions. Reasonable steps would include having an equality policy, communicating it to staff and implementing it effectively. It is not a defence for the service provider simply to show that the action took place without its prior knowledge or approval.


What services are covered by the law?

The law applies to all providers of goods, facilities and services including the disposal and management of premises in Northern Ireland:


  • regardless of size and whether in the private, public or voluntary sectors
  • whether the services are provided free, for example access to a public park
  • in return for payment, e.g. an item in a shop.
  • whether the service is being provided by a sole trader, firm, company or other organisation
  • whether the person involved in providing the services is self employed, an employee, contractor or agent


All those involved in providing services have responsibilities under the law, including senior management and front line staff whether full or part-time, permanent or temporary.


Examples of discrimination

  • You ask a woman who applies for credit for her husband’s signature when a man in similar circumstances is not asked for his wife’s signature.
  • A woman taking driving lessons with your driving school becomes uncomfortable with the instructor because he has been making offensive remarks of a sexual nature about her and about other women passers-by.
  • You are aware that on 3 occasions, a customer has sexually harassed a female member of your staff. She has made a complaint but you have not taken any action to protect her because you do not want to lose the customer. This is third party harassment against one of your employees by a service user.
  • Your tenant who was subjected to sexual harassment had complained about the discrimination and was relocated to another house in a different area. Following the relocation, you failed to deal with repair requests in a satisfactory manner. If the reason for this was because you were retaliating against her for making a complaint of sex discrimination then it is victimisation.

Are there exceptions?

There are a number of situations in which it is not unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sex. Examples are as follows:

  • facilities or services where embarrassment is likely to be caused at the presence of a woman or a man, e.g. changing rooms at a swimming pool
  • facilities or services where physical contact between the user and any other person is likely, and that other person might reasonably object if the user was a person of the opposite sex
  • in relation to communal residential accommodation (such as dormitories or other shared residential accommodation). However, when restricting communal accommodation on the ground of gender reassignment, the degree to which such discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is taken into account
  • small private clubs with fewer than 25 members unless they provide services to the public
  • persons who make arrangements to take into their home (for reward or not) persons who they treat as members of their family, such as children, elderly persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention
  • a hospital or other establishment for persons requiring special supervision, attention or care
  • organised religion where the facilities or services are restricted to men only or women only so as to comply with the doctrines of that religion or avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a significant number of followers
  • acts relating to participation as a competitor in certain sporting events which are confined to competitors of one sex
  • acts done to protect women in compliance with the requirement of an existing statutory provision, e.g. in relation to pregnancy or maternity


< Service providers

How we can help

We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.

Employer Training Programme

Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Bullying and harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops

We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or contact us Tel: 028 90 500 600, email



In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where we agree to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests, contact Frances Nugent, email  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Speakers for your event

If you are organising an equality related event, our staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news ezine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


This is a selection of gender-related publications that are relevant to providers of goods, facilities and services.

Additional publications

Further publications are available in our publications database

For further guidance please contact our Advice and Compliance team - 028 90 500 600


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