Discrimination (Sex)

Link to EOC website

Sex Discrimination Act

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the grounds of sex, or marital status in:  

  • Recruitment (unless it is a genuine occupational requirement or subject to other exempt circumstances);
  • Treatment at work;
  • Dismissal.

There are two main types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination is less favourable treatment of an individual because of his or her gender;
  • Indirect discrimination is when the employer applies a condition that directly disadvantages one sex from the other. An example could be requiring an employee to have extensive job related experience and be under 40 years old. Such a requirement would disadvantage women as a large number of women would be excluded by virtue of breaks in their career because of child-care responsibilities (which still predominantly fall to women). 

The Sex Discrimination Act applies to all employees regardless of:

  • Length of service, and number of hours the employee works;
  • The size of the employer;
  • Whether they are permanent, self employed or contract workers.

Employees must also share the same employment rights as every other employee, regardless of sex. This includes access to training, benefits, facilities and services.

Individuals undergoing or who have undergone gender re-assignment are also protected by the provisions of the Act.


Particular care needs to be exercised during recruitment interviews. For example, asking a woman about any plans to start a family may be interpreted as an intent to discriminate. As a general rule any questions asked about candidates' personal circumstances must be addressed to all candidates regardless of gender.

Sickness absence and pregnancy

A similar level of care needs to be applied to policies and procedures relating to sickness absence and pregnancy. For this reason, policies on maternity pay should be as least as generous as policies on sickness pay. For example, a male employee who is absent from work because of sickness or injury should not receive a better rate of sickness pay than a woman would receive if absent from work because of maternity leave.