Can My Employer Discriminate against Me because I’m a Woman?

Joy Drummond
Partner, Employment Law Solicitor

No. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because you are a woman.

Sex discrimination in the workplace can be experienced by people of both genders. However, it is often women who feel they are being discriminated against whilst at work, because they are paid less than their male colleagues, or being overlooked for promotion or training compared to the men they work with or being disadvantaged due to pregnancy or maternity leave.

Sex discrimination at work should not be tolerated by anyone of any gender. If you are experiencing it you should consider what action to take at an early stage, to ensure your rights are protected. 

It can be a tricky area of law to understand so if you are unsure, call one of our experienced Employment Law Solicitors for free initial legal guidance on next steps.

We may be able to deal with your claim on a No Win, No Fee basis - ask for details.

Call us on 0808 258 3531 or request a callback

Sex as a Protected Characteristic at Work

It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of their sex. It is one of the nine Protected Characteristics, which are:

  • Age
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Women are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, while at work, in education, as a consumer, when using public services, when buying or renting property and as a member or guest of a private club or association.

Main Types of Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers should ensure that they have processes in place to prevent sex discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Determining pay, terms and conditions
  • Training and development
  • Selection for promotion
  • Dismissal
  • Selection for redundancy

If you are associated with someone who has a Protected Characteristic, such as a friend or family member, or if you’ve complained about sex discrimination in the workplace in support of someone else, then you are also protected.

Main Types of Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers should ensure that they have processes in place to prevent sex discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Determining pay, terms and conditions
  • Training and development
  • Selection for promotion
  • Dismissal
  • Selection for redundancy

Unlawful sex discrimination can occur in four distinct ways in the workplace, which also apply to

Direct Discrimination – This is where someone is treated less favourably to other people because of their sex, their perceived sex or because of the sex of someone they are in association with, which might protect, for example, someone campaigning for or refusing to disadvantage a person or persons of a particular sex.

If a man is given a promotion over an equally qualified woman because he is a man, rather than because of his skills or qualifications, this might be an example of direct discrimination against the woman.

Indirect Discrimination –This is where a rule in the workplace, or a policy or practice or procedure, is applied to all employees but puts those employees of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with the other sex and the employer is unable to justify it. As the employee, you have to prove you were personally disadvantaged and show how the same disadvantage particularly disadvantages other employees of the same sex.

A classic example is where the employer requires all employees in a particular role to work full-time hours, then this can put female employees at a disadvantage if they have caring duties for their children. To defend the claim an employer would need to show that full time working was necessary to properly carry out the role.

Harassment – Any unwanted conduct related to sex, or of a sexual nature, with the purpose or effect of violating the other person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them is unlawful under the Equality Act.

Sexual harassment against women can take on the form of written, or verbal comments, remarks about a woman’s appearance or her sex life and unwanted physical contact or touching, including sexual assault.

Victimisation – If someone is disadvantaged because they have made a complaint, or has supported someone else’s claim of sex discrimination, then they are being victimised and they can bring a claim for unlawful victimisation under the Equality Act.

There are specific provisions under the Equality Act for claims relating to less favourable contractual terms due to sex, including pay.

How to Claim for Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

If you’ve been a victim of sex discrimination at work it is important to consider the best action to take at an early stage. The first step is to try and resolve the matter with your employer informally.

If this does not resolve the matter, then you can go down the more formal route and raise a grievance with your employer following the company’s grievance procedure.

If you wish to protect your right to make a claim through an Employment Tribunal, then you must notify ACAS that you wish to start the Early Conciliation process and you must do this within 3 months of the alleged sex discrimination taking place.

If there is still no agreement, then you can go to an Employment Tribunal. To make an Employment Tribunal claim it is essential to have first gone through ACAS Early Conciliation.

There are strict and short time limits for making an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination. Generally, a claim must be made within 3 months of the act of discrimination, discounting the time during ACAS Early Conciliation. The rules also allow a minimum of one month from the end of ACAS Early Conciliation.

Different time limits apply for equal pay claims. Generally, claims must be made within 6 months of the end of the employment to which the claim relates.

For the precise deadline that applies in your case, it is essential to take advice as soon as possible.

How Simpson Millar Can Help You

Our Employment Lawyers offer free initial legal guidance on next steps and can provide legal representation in sex discrimination cases. We will be sensitive and tireless in handling your claim.

You and your colleagues also share a duty of care to report acts of sex discrimination. However, we understand it can be a daunting thing, as you may fear this could jeopardise your own employment position. Your employer should have policies and procedures to help and support you in doing this.

One of our Employment Lawyers can deal directly with your employer if you don’t feel comfortable discussing the situation with your employer yourself.

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