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Sex discrimination and sexual harassment at work

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Sex discrimination and sexual harassment at work
17Mar

Sex discrimination and sexual harassment at work

It is against the law for someone you work for to treat you unfairly because of your sex (or gender). This is called sex discrimination. The law on sex discrimination at work applies to both men and women.

All workers are protected by the law on sex discrimination, including:

• people who are applying for a job

apprentices and people on work experience

self-employed people who have a contract to provide a service

contract and agency workers

part-time workers.

Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect, harassment or victimization.

Direct discrimination is where your employer treats you less favorably than someone else who works for them because of your sex. An example of this would be not promoting you to a management position because you are a woman. Another example would be not offering a man the post of secretary because the employer believes a man would not be able to do this type of work. It's not possible for an employer to justify direct sex discrimination.

 

Indirect discrimination is where your employer has a rule, policy or practice, which though not aimed at you personally, puts you at a disadvantage because of your sex. An example of this would be a requirement to work full time. This is because it is harder for women, who are more likely than men to be looking after children, to work full time. Indirect discrimination can be justified if it can be shown to be an unavoidable business need. Indirect discrimination almost always applies to women, rather than men.

 

When could sex discrimination occur

Common situations at work when you could experience sex discrimination include:

• when you are applying for promotion

• unfair access to training and development opportunities, or other benefits

• decisions about who is chosen for redundancy

• not allowing you to work flexibly to care for a child or relative.

 

Sexual harassment at work

You are protected by law against sexual harassment at work. This includes both men and women. It also includes people who are undergoing, have undergone or who are intending to undergo gender reassignment. This is where you are changing from one sex to another.

Sexual harassment could include:

• unwelcome comments of a sexual nature

• unnecessary touching or unwanted physical contact

• leering at someone's body

• displaying offensive material such as posters

• sending offensive e-mails. This includes colleagues downloading pornographic e-mails, even if they aren't sent to you personally.

 

The law protects you against sexual harassment from your employer, colleagues and, if the act took place before 1 October 2013, third parties, for example, customers. Sexual harassment could be a one-off incident or a series of incidents. It could be sexual harassment if you are working in an environment which the behaviour of others makes intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive.

Sexual harassment might be deliberate or nasty but it doesn't have to be. Someone could be sexually harassing you, even if they don't mean to, or don't realise they are doing it. This doesn't mean that it isn't wrong or that you shouldn't complain about it.

 

What can I do about sex discrimination or sexual harassment?

If you're experiencing sex discrimination or sexual harassment at work, take action as quickly as possible. If you are being sexually harassed, tell the person to stop. Only do this if you feel it is safe. You may find it helpful to have a colleague or trade union representative with you when you do this.

tell your manager what is happening. Put it in writing and keep a copy. Your employer is required by law to protect you from sex discrimination and sexual harassment. If it is your manager who is discriminating against you or harassing you, tell someone higher up in the organisation

talk to your personnel department or trade union. They might be able to help you stop the discrimination or harassment

get advice. A Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or refer you to a specialist. Details of how to find your nearest CAB are at the end of this fact sheet

collect evidence. Keep a diary of the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done, who was involved, if there were any witnesses and evidence of any similar incidents against other colleagues. Record the names and jobs of those you think are treated more favourably than you, or details of the rule or policy that puts you at a disadvantage.

 

Raising a grievance

If you can't solve your problem informally, you may have to make a formal written complaint to your employer, using a grievance procedure. If your workplace doesn't have one, you can use the ACAS grievance procedure – see Further help.

Although the law can help protect you, you should be aware that if you make a formal complaint, this may make your life at work even more uncomfortable.

You don't need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time before you can make a claim for sex discrimination or sexual harassment. If you have been dismissed, you may also be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal.

You will need to prove your case. This is why collecting evidence is so important. You can ask your employer questions about your treatment. This can help you decide if you’ve been discriminated against. It can also help you get information to support your case. If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal there are strict time limits for doing this.

 

Going to an employment tribunal

If you can't solve your problem using a grievance procedure, you may want to make a claim for sex discrimination, sexual harassment or unfair dismissal if you've been dismissed to an employment tribunal.

There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal. You've usually only got three months minus one day from the date of the last time you were discriminated against or harassed, or from the date you were dismissed. This time limit applies even if you're raising a grievance or appealing against a decision. The Acas early conciliation scheme starts on 6 April 2014 and will apply to most employment tribunal claims. It affects the time limit and is compulsory from 6 May 2014. You should get specialist advice to help you work out the time limit for your claim.

There is no upper limit to the amount of compensation you can be awarded by an employment tribunal in a sex discrimination case.

 

Other legal action you can take against sexual harassment

If you are being sexually harassed, there may be legal action you can take besides going to an employment tribunal. You will need to get advice about this.

 

Other types of discrimination

You also have the right not to be treated unfairly at work or dismissed from your job because, for example you're:

• pregnant or on maternity leave

• undergoing, intending to undergo or have undergone gender reassignment (changing to another sex)

• married or in a registered partnership.

 

For more information about these types of discrimination, see the Adviceguide pages Discrimination at work because of pregnancy and maternity leave and

Taking action about sex discrimination.

www.adviceguide.org.uk Copyright © 2002-2014 Citizens Advice. All rights reserved Registered

 

 

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