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Politics highlighting sex discrimination in the workplace

The recent press story covering the shocking allegations against the Labour party’s Angela Rayner, has brought to light some serious employment law points of discussion; notably sex discrimination in the workplace.

It is a common misconception for people to write off discrimination as not having taken place, or it just being a bit of banter, but only those who suffer it (and us employment lawyers) are aware of just how rife this type (and many other types) of discrimination in the workplace actually is.

Inevitably there will be the off few who ‘cry wolf’ over being subjected to sex discrimination when it is used a red herring to gloss over something else, but they are in the minority.  It is frankly shocking that in this era, we are still having to deal with sex discrimination in the workplace.

What is sex discrimination?

Sex discrimination occurs where a person of one sex is treated differently to a person of the other sex.  By differently that is in a negative way.  There are different forms of sex discrimination which cover (in very loose terms):

  • direct sex discrimination – a person treats another person less favourable because of their sex.
  • indirect sex discrimination – a person applies a way of doing things (practice), provision (such as a policy) or a criteria to another person and that PCP puts people of the same sex as the person complaining at a disadvantage compared to those of the opposite sex.  There is then a need for the person applying the PCP to be able to justify their reason for it but this article is not an in-depth look into indirect discrimination.
  • harassment on the grounds of sex (which includes sexual harassment).
  • victimisation – where a person raises a grievance or complaint about sex discrimination and then is subjected to a detriment for it.

With the articles about Angela Rayner, (and for those who have not read them, the anonymous allegation is that she would cross and uncross her legs sitting in front of the Prime Minister replicating the scene from Basic Instinct) it is insinuating that she was using her position as a woman to distract the male Prime Minister.  Clearly an allegation such as this has hit the headlines given the subject matter.

It was just banter

The times we have come across claims where, either representing the employee (Claimant) or the employer (Respondent), the witness evidence says it was just ‘banter’.  It really is not an excuse.  Discrimination is subjective so what one person feels is a joke or banter, can be deeply hurtful, upsetting and offensive for another (and mainly the person who is the target of the conduct).

Examples of sex discrimination can be making jokes about the sex of a person (hence the reference to it being ‘banter’), making lewd or suggestive comments, touching a colleague (resting one’s hand on someone else’s knee, shoulder etc for too long) through to having asked someone out for a drink (for example), being turned down and then holding a grudge against the person for their decision to reject the drink offer.

What can be done about sex discrimination in the workplace?

It will depend which side you are in respect of being an employee who is subject to such treatment, or the employer where you have been presented with a complaint (or in light of the recent press), you want to take more of a proactive approach to try to quash any such conduct.

Any employee who feels they may be the recipient of such treatment should in the first instance use their employer’s internal grievance procedure.  If that does not resolve the situation, then there is external third parties, such as Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) or another mediator. They’ll attempt to resolve the issue informally by mediating discussions between the parties.  Thereafter it would involve going through an employment tribunal.

Any employer who is faced with a complaint of sex discrimination should take the matter seriously (given the consequences could see an employment tribunal claim being filed against the employer).   As above, this would involve making use of the grievance procedure and ensuring there are suitable people within the organisation who can deal with it.  Remember, you are aiming for managers who are impartial and not involved in the subject matter.

As an employer, having clear policies in place for equal treatment and also suitable training on those policies is key.  Having a policy is not proactively ensuring staff understand what that means, if you conducted a poll of who had read the policy, how many would say yes?  Training for managers on trigger signs and how to deal with complaints would also be another means of helping the workforce.

Sex discrimination applies to both sexes and whilst it is more common for complaints to be made by women, men can also be subjected to this type of treatment

If you feel you are being subjected to sex discrimination personally, or if you are an employer concerned about such issues within your workplace,  Swan Craig Solicitors can help. Our team of expert solicitors are dedicated to providing you with the utmost support throughout the process, offering advice and representation at every stage. Get in touch today to find out more about what we can do for you.

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