Prevent discrimination and value diversity

Sex, maternity and pregnancy discrimination


As well as outlawing discrimination against both men and women on the ground of sex, the sex equality legislation also bans discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity leave.

Direct sex discrimination

Direct sex discrimination would occur if, for example, an employer refused to recruit a woman merely because she has two young children but where he would not refuse to recruit a man merely because he has two children of the same age.

Equally, direct sex discrimination against a man would occur if, for example, an employer refused to recruit or dismissed a man merely because he is a man.

Note that it may sometimes be permissible to state that a job holder must be male or female where being of that sex is a genuine occupational requirement - see discrimination during the recruitment process.

Direct pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination would occur if, for example an employer dismissed a woman merely because she is pregnant, or because she asked to take maternity leave, or is exercising or has exercised her statutory right to take maternity leave.

Indirect sex discrimination

Indirect sex discrimination might occur if, for example, an employer stated that a job could only be done by someone willing to spend long periods of time away from home. This potentially discriminates against women who generally have greater childcare responsibilities than men and who, as a result, are likely to find it more difficult to spend time away from home. However, this kind of job criterion or condition would be lawful if it can be justified, for example, if the job was for a salesperson who had to go abroad to meet customers face to face, then there may be no reasonably alternative way of doing the job.

Access Equality Commission and Labour Relations Agency employer guidance on pregnancy and maternity at work.

The law also makes sexual harassment - and harassment related to sex - explicitly unlawful in employment or vocational training. Sexual harassment can include inappropriate touching, requests for sexual favours, insensitive jokes of a sexual nature, displays of sexually explicit material, sexual innuendos or lewd comments or gestures. It also includes the circulation of lewd emails, even if this is not actually sent to the person being harassed.

Read more on bullying and harassment.

For more on these types of discrimination and discrimination law in general, see equality law and types of discrimination.