This section provides general information on employment law. If you have specific questions, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer or trade union.
WorkLine offers advice on the website, through a confidential phone number or email. The service is sponsored by the UK Film Council and Women in Film and Television, and supported by Goodman Derrick LLP (Employment Lawyers).
The information in this section of the Diversity Toolkit has been compiled by Croner, an organisation providing information, advice and support in the areas of employment, health and safety and environmental compliance.
Protection against sex discrimination first came into effect in 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970 were implemented. On 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 came into force. The Act consolidated all the previous discrimination laws, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, into one Act, reconciling most of the differences between them and repealing the previous laws. The Equality Act applies to job applicants, all workers including contract workers and agency temps, apprentices, office holders, the police, and people in vocational training. It prohibits direct and unjustified indirect sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment related to sex. Men and women are equally protected. There is no qualifying period of service necessary to make a complaint to a tribunal, and no limit on the amount of compensation that can be awarded.
The Equality Act also contains provisions to prohibit discrimination because of pregnancy/maternity, marriage and civil partnership status and trans-gender status, as was the case previously under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Questions and Answers
We employ temporary agency staff in secretarial roles. One such temp is pregnant and has asked to come back to us after the baby is born if we have further assignments. We would prefer not to have her back. Are we at risk of a claim for sex discrimination?
It depends on the reason why you do not want her back. You can be liable for sex discrimination towards agency staff and so if the reason you do not want her back is because she is pregnant or for a reason related to her absence on maternity leave, you would be at risk of a successful discrimination claim. If, on the other hand, you do not want her back due to unsatisfactory performance, this will not amount to discrimination - but you would need to have documentary evidence of the performance problems to defend any claim at tribunal.
We have a young woman who has been working for us for several months and has now come to the HR department and complained that she is being harassed by her male supervisor. There are no witnesses. How should we respond to her allegations?
You will need to investigate her complaint thoroughly, which will mean obtaining a full description from her in the first instance of exactly what has occurred. Questions should be asked sympathetically and ideally you should aim for an interview that is more of a counselling interview than a formal investigation. Once you have obtained a full report, you will be able to interview the supervisor. You will then have to decide whether disciplinary action against him is necessary.
Steps should be taken to ensure that the employees in question do not work together while the investigation is taking place, to prevent the risk of further harassment if the allegation is found to be of substance. The investigation should take place as quickly as possible and should then move to a disciplinary hearing if appropriate. A decision can be made on a balance of probabilities, even if there were no witnesses to the incident(s) in question.
- Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably because of sex than a member of the opposite sex was or would have been treated.
- Indirect sex discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice is applied to everyone, but is such that it puts, or would put, women (or men) at a disadvantage, thus causing disadvantage to an individual, and where it cannot be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- Individuals are protected from being victimised for bringing or assisting with a claim of sex discrimination or equal pay.
- Married people and civil partners are protected from discrimination on the grounds of their marital or civil partnership status.
- Employees who are pregnant are protected against any type of discrimination because of, or for a reason related to, the pregnancy or because the employee plans to take, is taking, or has taken maternity leave.
- Any individual who is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone the process (or part of the process) of gender reassignment (ie sex change) is protected against discrimination.