Sex discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably because of their sex. Both men and women are protected from discrimination on the basis of their sex.  
Some of the most common issues include: 


The Equal Pay Act 1970 gives employees the right to equal pay for equal work in comparison with the opposite sex. In 2010, the Equality Act came into force and is now the most relevant law.  
This applies to people working for the same employer doing jobs that are the same, similar, or equivalent work of equal value, skill, and responsibility. This can also apply to workers at associated companies (such as parent companies or different branches of the same company) or with the same source of payment (for example council workers). It is not always clear which roles are equivalent for these purposes. If you are unsure, get in touch for advice to help determine which roles are equivalent to yours for the purpose of equal pay. 
If you believe you are not being paid equally, you can make a claim through the tribunal or the civil courts. If successful, your pay and contract will be improved in line with your colleague, and you may be awarded back pay up to a maximum of six years. The deadline for making a claim to the tribunal is within six months of the employment ending, or up to six years from the breach in the courts. We can help you to understand which type of claim is best in your circumstances.  
Organisations of 250 or more people must also report average pay for men and women in the firm, and whether there is a pay gap, and publish the information on their website. Having a pay gap is not necessarily discriminatory, but may point to failings in equality, such as a failure to promote men or women to senior roles, or a culture that particularly causes men or women to leave the organisation. 


It is accepted by the court that women are more likely to take on childcare or other caring responsibilities (this does not mean that it is fair or right for caring responsibilities to fall to women, the tribunal is simply recognising it is often the case.) This means that policies which put people with childcare needs or caring responsibilities at a disadvantage could be indirectly discriminatory. 
For example, policies such as a blanket ban on flexible working, or refusal to provide shift patterns in time to arrange childcare, could indirectly discriminate against women. Examples include an estate agent awarded £185,000 when her employer refused to consider flexible hours and a nurse whose dismissal for refusing to work weekends due to childcare issues was found to be discriminatory. 
However, policies which are aimed specifically at supporting working mothers risk being discriminatory if they put fathers at a disadvantage on the basis of their sex. 


Pregnancy and maternity is a protected characteristic in it’s own right, separate from sex. Find out more about pregnancy and maternity discrimination here. 


Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. When it happens at work, it is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act, and the employer may face a claim for vicarious liability. 
Sexual harassment could include: 
Making sexual jokes or suggestions 
Asking somebody about their sex life 
Sharing sexualised or pornographic images 
Unwanted physical contact 
A sexualised culture which, although not aimed at one individual, makes an employee uncomfortable 
Sexual harassment is unlawful whether it is carried out by somebody of the opposite sex or the same sex. 
Employers should do everything it can to prevent sexual harassment. If not, the person being harassed may be able to bring a claim against the employer for vicarious liability. They could also be breaching their contract of employment by failing in their duty to protect the wellbeing of their employees. 
Harassment (unwanted conduct which creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment) in relation to a protected characteristic is also a form of discrimination. Sex-based harassment does not have a sexual nature but is related to the characteristic of sex. For example, telling jokes that generalise all men or women, or using sexist insults. 

Non-disclosure agreements 

Following the #MeToo movement, it became clear that many organisations were using non-disclosure agreements to cover up instances of sexual harassment. As well as being unethical, this may be unlawful where the harassment amounted to a criminal offence or a health and safety breach.  
Employees must receive legal advice before signing a settlement agreement (which often include confidentiality clauses), but we also advise seeking advice when signing any contract or agreement that involves a non-disclosure or confidentiality clause. 
If you have signed an agreement but are unsure if it was legal, you can discuss this with your solicitor. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority considers it improper to use non-disclosure agreements to prevent discussion with a legal advisor, and so it is unlikely your employer could enforce such a term.  
If you have questions about the contents of your agreement, or its legality, get in touch for help. 

Making a legal claim for sexual harassment at work 

We understand that experiencing sexual harassment can have a huge impact on you, and that bringing a claim can be upsetting or daunting. We are experienced in supporting clients bringing sexual harassment cases and have received very positive feedback from these clients. If you would feel more comfortable with a female or male solicitor, we are more than happy to accommodate – just mention it in your initial call. 
We understand that you may not feel ready to bring a claim, but the usual time limits apply for making a claim so it is best to act quickly. 


Sex as an Occupational Requirement 

In some roles, an employer may require a person of a particular sex for a job. In these cases, it is legal to discriminate by sex if the employer can show that there is a genuine need. For example, a domestic violence shelter for women may specify that they do not employ men, or a prison may need an officer of the same sex as the prisoners who can carry out searches. 

Positive Action 

Some employers may also use ‘positive action’ to improve sex equality. This could include putting statements in job adverts to encourage male or female applicants, offering mentoring and training opportunities, or using sex as a deciding factor where two candidates are equally in every other way. However, this is complicated area, as there can be a thin line between positive action and discrimination. We recommend seeking legal advice about whether certain ‘positive action’ is legal or not. 


Do you have a legal matter you'd like to discuss with us? Get in touch using the details below or use the form here and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss your enquiry. 
Phone: 0121 817 0520 
Address: Spencer Shaw Solicitors Limited 
St Mary's House, 68 Harborne Park Road,  
Harborne, Birmingham, B17 0DH 
Opening hours: 
Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 5:00PM 
Saturday, Sunday & Bank Holidays - Closed 
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