No. There are different types of sex discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. The main forms are:
Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others on grounds of your sex.
Example 1: A female candidate is not appointed to a post even though at interview she achieved a higher score than the successful candidate who is male. The employers based their decision on stereotypical assumptions about the woman’s ability to carry out the job.
Example 2: An employer makes an employee redundant because she is pregnant.
Example 3: An employee was subjected to a prolonged campaign of abuse and harassment from her colleagues at work when she announced her change of gender identity from male to female.
Example 4: An employer has a policy that only allows emergency leave to be taken where a spouse, child or parent is affected. An employee receives a telephone call informing him that his civil partner has been involved in an accident. The employee has been recorded as next of kin on his civil partner’s medical notes and is required at the hospital. The employer refuses the employee’s request for leave.
Indirect discrimination is where an organisation operates a practice or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people of one particular sex and which cannot be shown to be a proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim.
Example: An employer requires all employees to work full-time. As more women than men have caring responsibilities for young children or dependent adults, they would find it harder to comply with this requirement.
Sexual harassment is where you are the target of unwanted behaviour that is of a sexual nature, and/or you find that, because of your sex, your dignity is violated by an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Behaviours include unwelcome touching, physical threats, comments about how you look, indecent remarks, sexual demands as well as questions about your sex life, being stared at or leered at or receiving sexually explicit pictures, emails or text messages. You don’t have to experience the behaviour repeatedly as a single act, if sufficiently serious, can be sexual harassment.
Example: A female works as second chef in a male dominated kitchen. Initially she experiences the odd crude comment and joke which does not surprise her. However she is subsequently subjected to ongoing harassment from a kitchen porter. This includes inappropriate touching, sexual talk, sexual conduct, and threats of physical violence towards her. She unsuccessfully takes a grievance about his behaviour within the company. However she wins her case of sexual harassment at the Tribunal.
is where you have made a complaint of sex discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the sex discrimination law, and suffered as a result.
For example: An employer refuses to offer one of their employees overtime because he was a witness for a colleague who took a sex discrimination case against them to the tribunal.
Over the past three years we have helped 2620 people who have experienced some form of sex discrimination.
We helped individuals with issues such as:
- Sexual harassment
- Going back to work after maternity
- Pregnancy discrimination
- Dismissal / redundancy
- Recruitment and promotion
- Terms and conditions, such as salary, pension, holidays, work allocation
- Part-time working.
See our section on Pregnancy and maternity at work - your employment rights
You are protected from sex discrimination in all aspects of working life:
Applying for a job
Working as an apprentice or being on work experience
Terms and conditions in a job, including pay
Opportunities for training / promotion
How you are treated in terms of discipline and grievance issues
The working environment and dealings with customers
Dismissal / redundancy
However, there are limited circumstances where sex discrimination is not unlawful - where a man or woman is needed to do a particular job. This is called genuine occupational requirement (GOR).
Genuine occupational requirement examples:
A man or woman is needed for a specific purpose such as modelling or acting roles.
A female worker is required for a domestic violence unit; the justification being that women are seeking refuge from men.
A male or female is required for reasons of decency or privacy where the job involves close physical contact or people undressing.
Women and men doing the same work or work of equal value are entitled to equal pay.
You will have an equal pay complaint if you are being paid less than someone of the opposite sex in the same employment and doing:
Work which is the same or broadly similar (known as like work)
Work which has been rated equivalent under a job evaluation scheme
Work which is different but which is of equal value in terms of the demands of the job.
Difference in pay between male and female employees can only be justified if there is a genuine material factor other than sex, such as:
Skills and shortages
Different skills, qualifications and experience
Example: A female is employed 3 years by a construction company as a Health and Safety Officer. During pay negotiations she receives a male colleague’s pay rise letter in error and discovers that despite a year’s less service than her and less responsibility he earns £7,000 more for doing the same job. He also has a car allowance. She takes an equal pay case and settles for £15,000.
The term pay includes:
Pregnant women and new mothers have legal employment rights which are designed to protect their health and safety and that of their expected or new-born children. These rights also protect their contractual terms and conditions of employment and are designed to prevent unlawful discrimination.
Pregnant women and new mothers have the right to:
- paid time-off for ante-natal care
- maternity leave
- maternity pay
- protection from unfair treatment or dismissal
For further information see our section on Pregnancy and maternity at work - your employment rights
Sex discrimination law protects you from discrimination in all aspects of your working life including applying for a job, your terms and conditions of employment including practical issues such as dress codes and toilet facilities, the working environment and dealings with customers, dismissal/redundancy and job references.
1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help
you resolve your issue.
2. Raise your complaint directly with your employer and seek a resolution.
3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal
representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.
NB: Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).
Pregnancy and maternity at work
See our new section of frequently asked questions relating to rights and responsibilities around pregnancy and maternity: Pregnancy and maternity at work - your employment rights
The Equality Commission conducted a investigation into the employment experiences of pregnant women and mothers, on maternity leave and on their return to work. Almost 1,000 women across Northern Ireland responded to our online survey sharing their experiences through focus group discussions and interviews. Read more about investigations
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