Sex Discrimination Act

Sex Discrimination Act

Before the Sex Discrimination Act was established in 1975, The Sexual Discrimination Act was developed to offer a degree of protection from being discriminated against on the basis of their sex. Since 1975 there have been additional pieces of legislation introduced including;

  • The most recent, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Amendment) Regulations 2008
  • Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005
  • Gender Recognition Act 2004 which applied to transgender
  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (Amendment) Regulations 2003
  • The Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof) Regulations 2001

The Sex Discrimination Act has been introduced to prevent and protect individuals against sexual discrimination. The sexual discrimination definition can be applied to a range of different situations. When applying this law, it is important to note that discrimination applies to unwanted attention that the victim may receive rather than being focused on any discrimination that may relate to the perpetrator.

Sex Discrimination Act

Furthermore, there are multiple scenarios where sexual discrimination may arise such as;

  • If an employee in the workplace returns to work after paternity or maternity leave and faces a demotion
  • If an employee is excluded from attending a corporate or social event because the group is predominantly male or female
  • When a business employs or promotes a male employee who has fewer qualifications or less experience than a female member of staff
  • A female applicant who is not provided with an employment opportunity because of the particular type of work such as physical labour

Indirect Sexual Discrimination

The Sex Discrimination Act also incorporates indirect sexual discrimination. This can happen when the policies of a business, places a female or male employee at a distinct disadvantage over the other. This can occur if for example an employer only offers full time employment, stipulates restrictions in terms of weight or height or the insistence that an employee works unsocial hours or relocate to an unreasonable distance when they have specific commitments such as managing childcare.

Sexual harassment can take many different forms such as remarks about your body, clothing or appearance, indecent comments or inappropriate questions or a comment about your private life. Sexual harassment can also be non-verbal including displaying explicit material such as magazines, posters or calendars or looking at a person’s body. Physical harassment includes unwanted physical contact, assault or rape.

When an individual is treated differently than someone else in a similar situation, as a direct result of their actual, previous or suspected participation in a ‘protected act’ this is referred to as victimisation. A protected act could relate to;

  • Instigating legal action against the individual or business who were discriminatory
  • Submitting evidence or providing other information against the discriminator
  • Alleging that the discriminator has breached the Sexual Discrimination Act

Increase In Reporting

Due to increasing awareness of Sex Discrimination Act, reported cases are on the increase. In addition, employees feel more empowered to confront the perpetrator, a line manager or business.

Nevertheless there are situations where sexual discrimination happens but it is not reported by the victim, but it should be understood that sexual discrimination is unlawful and any behaviour which contravenes the legislation should be raised as an issue. If you believe you are a victim of discrimination there are several courses of action that you can take;

The first action you can consider is to issue what is known as the Sexual Discrimination Questionnaire. This is served on the person or organisation causing the problems. This is particularly useful when employers are being discriminatory. A conclusion of unlawful discrimination can be reached if the responses to the questions in the questionnaire are either evasive or not provided.

If you prefer not to do this you can simply speak with the perpetrator or employer and request that unwanted actions are stopped with immediate effect. Formal discussions will often stop the behaviour before it can escalate further. If you do not see an improvement in the behaviour and it continues after the formal discussion start a diary and note down times, dates, locations and details of the behaviour. In turn, this will strengthen any claim that you make against the perpetrator if you decide to take further action.

If you would like to speak to the perpetrator but do not wish to do so alone, it is perfectly acceptable to ask a colleague, representative from a union or even a friend to attend the discussion for support.


If a claim for sexual discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act is upheld, full, legal accountability is usually assigned to the employer. Where the situation involves employee sexual harassment whether it is an individual colleague, a team or someone occupying a managerial role the individual or group and the business will be made responsible.

If the behaviour still occurs after you have made a request for it to stop and raised it formally with your manager, then you can make an employment tribunal claim. Tribunals are external committees who will look at the situation from both sides and reach an unbiased decision based on their investigation. The tribunal will evaluate the information from both sides and determine whether an individual or business has acted in an unlawful manner and contravened the Sex Discrimination Act.

A resolution will also be sought. A tribunal that specialises in discrimination can be contacted if you remain unhappy with the response that your firm have provided and their efforts (or lack of them) to resolve the issue.

If the discriminatory behaviour was initiated by a colleague, the employer needs to follow the necessary disciplinary proceedings against the individual or group applying any grievance procedures that the company has. If, on the other hand the discrimination was a direct result of employer rules then it can be possible to dispute these by going to a tribunal.

Once the tribunal has concluded their investigation and they find that you have been discriminated against unlawfully, they can;

  • Provide instructions and recommendations to the employer to follow a specific set of instructions
  • If you have been dismissed, reinstate your position
  • Compensate the victim for any lost wages as a result of the situation as well as any implications that it has had on their feelings or general health

Limited Time to Claim

If you do decide to make a claim to a tribunal it must be made within a time limit of three months from the discriminatory incident occurring. Furthermore, any compensation that you are awarded could be reduced if the company grievance procedure has not been followed through properly or you have not received a full and final response before you start the claim.

Many people avoid making a claim for fear that there will be repercussions of doing so. However, there are many safeguards in place to protect individuals who make a claim. There are also special provisions in the legal system which offers protection. Although it may seem a daunting prospect to seek help or tell someone about sexual discrimination it is important because there are many laws which have been implemented to protect victims.

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