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Sex and Sexuality Discrimination

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 5 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Sex discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act came into force. Many people see this only in the context of giving men and women equal rights to apply for roles that were previously off-limits to them, but it also covers the more widespread issue of giving men and women the same pay for the same job.

Discrimination on Grounds of Sexuality

This is where someone is treated differently because they are, or are perceived to be, homosexual, bisexual, or even heterosexual. It is illegal to be treated less favourable in the workplace than someone else of equal skills, knowledge and aptitude who happens to be of a different sex or sexual preference. This would cover direct harassment such as name-calling and inappropriate jokes and Bullying, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.

It also covers indirect discrimination, where a policy has, inadvertently or covertly, resulted in a position where discrimination is the end result. An example might be only having male toilets on the premises.

There are some areas where dispensation from the Act allows people of one sex or another to be hired. Examples are in sensitive welfare services areas, single-sex schools, or perhaps roles in a play or TV production.

Demonstrating Discrimination

Sex discrimination is often easier to pick up on than discrimination around someone’s sexuality. For a start, sexuality is not obvious, whereas someone’s sex is. The important thing is that employers create a level playing field and do not promote single people over women who might become pregnant and take Maternity Leave, for example.

But sexism can be difficult to prove. If someone has been abusing you because of your sex, and you’re a minority in the workplace, then that’s quite clear. But a number of high-profile sex discrimination cases, particularly in places where institutional sexism is still rife, such as the police force or financial institutions, have foundered because it’s been impossible to decide for certain if someone’s lack of promotion is the result of sexism, or other factors.

Complications with Sexuality

One issue that arises with sexuality that doesn’t generally occur with sex discrimination is that people’s religious beliefs might cause problems. In the same way that someone’s sexuality is now something to be respected, people have a right for their religious views to be tolerated and respected, too. When it comes to religious beliefs that, for example, homosexuality is a sin, then a collision course is inevitable.

The rule is clear that both people involved, regardless of their views, must treat each other with respect. Neither is allow to harass or bully the other, and if they do, then action can be taken, either by those directly involved, or by work colleagues who witness what is going on is wrong.

Another difference between sex discrimination and sexuality discrimination is that you are not required to disclose your sexuality at work. Some employers may ask the question as part of an equal opportunities monitoring exercise but you do not have to answer the question.

Where to Go Next

If you do consider yourself to be a victim of discrimination on sexuality, you might take advice from gay and lesbian support groups, if your issue is one of sexuality discrimination rather than sexism. For more information, read our article Taking Action Against Discrimination on this site.

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