By Peter Brooks

Sex discrimination at work is said to take place when someone is treated less favourably than another by their employer purely on the grounds of their gender. Workers have the right to equal treatment under the following laws:

• The Equal Pay Act 1970
• The Sex Discrimination Act 1975
• The Part-Time Workers Regulations 2000
• The Human Rights Act
• European Union Law (Article 141 of the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997)

There is some overlap between the first two Acts, but broadly speaking the Equal Pay Act concerns itself with contractual matters in regard to employment, and the Sex Discrimination Act covers non-contractual matters, such as recruitment, training, promotion, dismissal, redundancy, TU membership and any treatment not covered by a contract of employment.

Equal Pay — the law sets down the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work, and that part-time workers should benefit from the same pay and conditions (on a pro rata basis) as full-time workers.

Sex Discrimination in the Workplace – along with other forms of anti-discrimination legislation, the law on this matter distinguishes between four broad groups of discriminatory behaviour: direct and indirect, victimisation and harassment. Each of these is outlined in the opening article.

The particular notion of sexual harassment is identified and defined in the 1975 Act. All unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, be it verbal, non-verbal or physical, is deemed to be discriminatory and unlawful. Furthermore, if an employer or their representative treats a person less favourably, whether they rejected or submitted to any unwanted conduct of this nature, then they are practicing a form of indirect discrimination which is still regarded as harassment.

The Part-Time Workers Regulations are not specifically gender-orientated, but they impact on sex discrimination indirectly, since men and women can experience contrasting limitations on their working hours. Women are more frequently responsible for primary childcare, and these obligations render them more likely to seek out and engage in part-time work. Discriminating against part-time workers may be to engage implicitly in sex discrimination.

Relationships at Work — some employers will not employ people who are in a relationship with an existing employee; others may seek disciplinary action against employees who form a personal relationship in the workplace. This is not intrinsically unlawful, but to operate different policies and practices on the grounds of gender is.

Dress Codes — any employer wishing to impose a dress code on members of its workforce (again, not in itself unlawful) must be seen to operating it fairly in regard to men and women.

For more information, see main article.

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