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Sex Discrimination

Sex discrimination can be divided up into direct discrimination, victimisation associative and perceptive discrimination as well as indirect discrimination and harassment.

Sex discrimination is discrimination based on a person’s gender.  However there are forms of discrimination akin to sex discrimination including pregnancy and maternity discrimination, marital or civil partnership discrimination and gender reassignment discrimination which are covered in other sections of this website in more detail. 

Direct sex discrimination occurs where there is less favourable treatment of an individual compared with the treatment of another person of a different sex.  When establishing the comparison there must be no material difference between the circumstances relating to each case when comparing them.

There are limited circumstances in which an employer is lawfully permitted to give preferential treatment to persons with a protected characteristic, where otherwise such action would have constituted unlawful discrimination.  This is sometimes called Positive discrimination.  Employers would need to be careful to check their legal position before embarking on such course of action as unlawful preferential treatment would be deemed discriminatory.

Indirect sex discrimination occurs where treatment appearing to be neutral and unconnected with sex nevertheless has a disproportionate adverse impact on members of a particular group sharing a particular gender. 

Harassment occurs when an employer (or another person in respect of whose actions an employer will be vicariously liable) engages in any form of conduct related to a protected characteristic (such as their sex) which has the purpose or effect of violating a workers dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for a worker.  

An employer will normally be liable for harassment where they fail to take reasonable practical steps to protect employees from harassment by third parties, where such harassment is known to have occurred on at least two other occasions (although employers will not normally be liable for conduct beyond their control).