Skip to main content
In order to provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. If you don't allow cookies, you may not be able to use certain features of the web site including but not limited to: log in, buy products, see personalized content, switch between site cultures. It is recommended that you allow all cookies.
Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Sex (including gender Reassignment)

Work related problem

Have I been discriminated against on grounds of my sex or related to gender reassignment?

If you have been treated unfairly on grounds of your sex, this may be unlawful discrimination. 

Men, women, those who are undergoing, have undergone or are intending to undergo gender reassignment, and pregnant women are all protected by the sex discrimination provisions. If you fall into any of these categories and you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, you can challenge the treatment under the sex discrimination laws. If you are claiming pregnancy or maternity discrimination you don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.

Is all sex discrimination the same?

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. 
Victimisation 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.

How am I protected against sex discrimination?

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
  • Pregnancy discrimination
  • Job references


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.

What if my complaint relates to pay?

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:

  • Market forces
  • 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:

  • Salary
  • Holidays
  • Pensions
  • Company perks
  • Bonuses

What if my issue is pregnancy or maternity related?

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

What if my issue is related to gender reassignment?

Sex discrimination (Gender reassignment) 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.


The menopause and work

If you are experiencing symptoms of the menopause, your employer has a duty of care to consider the impact of your work environment on your health and safety. They should seek to understand any specific requirements for changes that will:
  • ensure your menopausal symptoms are not made worse by workplace conditions/practices; and  
  • help you manage your symptoms when doing your job.  

Equality law and the menopause

Statutory equality law does not expressly provide protection for menopause or perimenopause.  However, menopause related discrimination could be unlawful on the grounds of sex, disability, or age.  

Workplace discrimination could take several forms.


  • Direct discrimination is when you are treated worse (e.g. disciplined or dismissed) than other people because of your sex or age, or, if you are disabled, because of your disability. 
  • Indirect discrimination is when the same practices or policies (e.g. dress codes or performance standards) are applied to everyone but which, in effect, causes greater disadvantages for people of your sex or age and for you. 
  • Harassment is when you are subjected to offensive or insulting behaviour related to your sex, age or disability (e.g. derogatory comments about your menopause). 
  • If you are disabled and your employer fails to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your disability. 

Health and safety considerations and the menopause

Your employer should carry out an assessment. With the menopause and perimenopause, an assessment should, for example, include:


  • the temperature and ventilation in the workplace;  
  • effects of a uniform on body temperature or skin irritation;  
  • adequacy of restroom facilities;  
  • whether toilet and washroom facilities are easily available; and  
  • whether cold drinking water is easily available 
  • Help for employers to put policies and procedures in place 

Employers should have policies for dealing with menopause related issues.  If your workplace doesn’t, let them know about our guide for menopause related policies and procedures (pdf)

What are my options?

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 you must notify the Labour Relations Agency. You will be offered early conciliation which can help you and your employer resolve the issue before you need to make a claim. 

4. If your complaint is still not resolved you can lodge a claim with the tribunals.  We may be able to provide you with legal representation. It is your responsibility to lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.

Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.

Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications


Useful links

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

Transsexual support groups:

Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of sex discrimination. Complaints on employment issues must be made to the tribunals within three months from the date of the discriminatory act. Even if you are attempting to resolve problems internally, the statutory time limits still apply.

If you wish to lodge a claim with the tribunals, you must first notify the Labour Relations Agency and discuss the option of early conciliation.  Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option.  Your time limit is likely to be affected by this.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim. This is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.  You still need to contact the Labour Relations Agency before you lodge a claim out of time.

< Work related problem
Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, sex, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

Equality Commission NI

Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP
We have listed below current legislation relevant to gender discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel:  028 90 500 600.

Refers to:
Sex discrimination
Pregnancy & maternity discrimination
Gender reassignment discrimination
Marital/Civil partnership status discrimination



Main law:

  • Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970 (this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the several amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2005)
  • Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976 (this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the many amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2008)


Amending laws:


European Union law:


Tribunal Rules

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Constitution & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Conciliation Rules - Employment: Dispute resolution

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Early Conciliation: Exemptions & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (NI) 2020

Nicola was a bakery assistant with a firm in Fermanagh. However, within a few months of taking the job she was dismissed. A Tribunal ruled that this was because she was pregnant and that she was therefore subjected to sex discrimination and was unfairly dismissed.

Speaking about the case Nicola said: “I was delighted when I got the job and believed that it would be long-term. When I found out I was pregnant I spoke to one of the owners and told her about it. She suggested that I think about whether it was best for me to continue working or if I’d be better off leaving. I didn’t want to leave, I was happy to work and I was devastated when I was dismissed a week later.”

The Equality Commission supported Nicola’s case and a Tribunal awarded her £7,500 for injury to feelings and £15,788 compensation for loss of earnings. Read more about Nicola's story>

Lauren's Story

Lauren, who had a 2 year-old son, was successful in gaining a graduate trainee manager position with an electrical company in 2012.  Prior to starting she visited the company and alleged that the manager told her she would struggle because she was a young woman, that women of child-bearing age were a hassle, that mothers do not make managers, and that she would have to work harder to compensate for her looks. The manager denied these remarks.


Lauren reported the exchange to the company managing the recruitment process but the job offer was withdrawn.  The Commission helped Lauren with a complaint of sex and age discrimination and her case was settled for a total of £20,000.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Noeleen's Story

Noeleen worked as a support worker and for several weeks in 2012 she and a male co-worker were the only employees on night shift.  Noeleen alleged that her co-worker engaged in unwelcome behaviour which made her feel degraded and stressed, including comments on her appearance and sex life and inappropriate touching such as hugging, tickling, poking and slapping her bottom.


Noeleen complained and on investigation the harasser admitted some behaviour was inappropriate and that he had touched her and made comments ‘in fun’. Her employer took disciplinary action against the harasser, however unaware of this, Noeleen resigned.  She was supported in a case alleging sexual harassment and constructive dismissal by the Commission and was awarded £12,293 by the Industrial Tribunal.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements



Print All