Five Ways Women Can Be Discriminated Against Without Realising….

Recent media focus on issues such as the #me too movement and gender pay gap has highlighted the discrimination which women face at work. Here we examine 5 ways in which a woman could be discriminated against in the workplace, sometimes without even realising!

Being overlooked for promotion…

The law states that an employer must not discriminate against an employee because she is pregnant or on maternity leave with regard to promotional opportunities. Examples of this could be failing to tell an employee about suitable job vacancies because she is pregnant or on maternity leave, or discouraging an employee from applying for a promotion because she is pregnant or on maternity leave. A poll for the Young Womens Trust revealed that 43% of young mothers felt they had faced maternity discrimination. Recently, a female economist who worked for the Office for National Statistics has been awarded £19,000 in compensation after she was denied a promotion because of her sex. The employment judge highlighted that there was an “an informal process that led to temporary promotions for males in substantially greater numbers than females”.

Being paid less than male colleagues….

The Equality Act states that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, and a ‘sex equality clause’ is implied into every female employees contract of employment. If a woman has less favourable contract terms that a male counterpart she can bring a claim in the employment tribunal. 

Changes to the Equality Act made it compulsory for companies in Great Britain with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap figures at the end of every financial year. The recent statistics were worrying, and showed that 57% of employers have more women than men among their lowest paid employees and only 33% have more women than men among their highest paid employees.

One would hope that forcing companies to publish their gender pay gap data would put real pressure on to ensure equality, however following a freedom of information request by the Guardian it was revealed that no companies have been fined to date for failing to report gender pay gap figures on time. It is evident that a significant gender pay gap persists in the workplace and equal pay claims form many of the cases heard by employment tribunals. 

Being denied flexible working…..

All employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment can make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme for any reason. However, an employer does not have to grant a flexible working request and there are eight specific grounds for rejecting a request;

 * The burden of additional costs. 

* Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.

* Inability to reorganise work among existing staff. 

* Inability to recruit additional staff. 

* Detrimental impact on quality.

* Detrimental impact on performance. 

* Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.

* Planned structural changes.

 Each request has to be considered on its own merits and it would be discriminatory to adopt a policy which did not allow flexible working, or only considered specified patterns of working. ACAS warns that an employer should be mindful that working hours or patterns which clash with an employee's child care responsibilities are more likely to affect women.  So, for example, employers who ask that their employees stay late at least once a week could be indirectly discriminating against female employees.

Suffering from Sexual Harassment….

 Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The law says it’s sexual harassment if the behaviour is either meant to, or has the effect of violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Sexual harassment can include:

* sexual comments or jokes

* physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching and various forms of sexual assault

* displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature

* sending emails with a sexual content

If a colleague is harassing you, they and your employer are both responsible.

A study carried out by the Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), surveyed over 1,500 women and discovered that 52% have been victims of unwanted sexual behaviours at work, from groping to inappropriate jokes. For women aged 16-24 this percentage rose to 63%, with almost 20% of women reporting that the person harassing them was their manager or someone in a position of authority.

Worryingly, around 80% of the women affected by sexual harassment did not report it

Many feared that it would have a negative impact on their career and working relationships, others were worried they wouldn’t be believed or taken seriously, and feelings of shame, anxiety and embarrassment also stood in the way of women seeking justice.

It can be daunting to stand up to sexual harassment but the law is there to back you up. It’s worth keeping a written record of any sexual harassment you are a victim of, including dates, times and locations. Various option exist, such as lodging a formal grievance or complaint with your employer, or taking your employer to an employment tribunal.

Losing out on a job to a male applicant…..

An employer cannot ask candidates about their relationship status or whether they have children or plan to have children. If a prospective employer decides not to offer a woman a job because she has children, or could have children in the future this would be discriminatory. 

 An employer can choose a candidate who has a protected characteristic over one who does not if they’re trying to address the under-representation or disadvantage for that particular characteristic. 

Even with the push for equality, there are still jobs done predominantly by men, and others predominantly by women. For example, currently most engineers, IT staff and builders are men. By comparison, currently most nurses, and admin and sales staff are women. It is often hard to prove that you did not get offered a job for discriminatory reasons, but if a candidate considers they may have been discriminated against they can take action under the Equality Act and seek compensation.

If you consider that you have been discriminated at work you must take action quickly, as most claims have to be brought within 3 months of the discriminatory act, or they risk being out of time.  

Apex Employment Solicitors Ltd is committed to working with employees and employers in all areas of employment law, including those discussed above.  We have offices in Maidstone but act for companies and individuals based throughout England and Wales.

If you would like to get in touch or for more information about us please contact us on 01622 234 147 or

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