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Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

Published 18 July 2016

Following on from our last employment blog which discussed the legality of male/female dress codes set by employers, we take a look at further issues relating to sex discrimination within the workplace.

Unfortunately sex discrimination is still a common occurrence in the workplace. Discrimination can take many forms including: direct discrimination (treating employees differently or less favourably due to their sex), indirect discrimination (rules or policies within the workplace which disadvantage a particular sex), harassment and victimisation.

It it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their sex. Similarly, employers who do not take steps to prevent or stop sex discrimination by employees against other employees, may also be unlawfully discriminating.

A recent news article reported that the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast – a public body which carries out research on behalf of Department of Agriculture – has paid almost £50,000 to settle a sex discrimination case brought about by two scientists.

Hollie Lewis and Carole Daly, who worked as assistant scientific officers in the same Laboratory, stated that they were subjected to sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation by male co-workers.

The women stated that they were treated less favourably by their Project Leader, a Senior Scientific Officer, and were subjected to frequent abusive conduct. Though all staff in the laboratory were on the same grade, the women say that the Senior Officer referred to the male assistant within the department as “the top dog” and said that the other female staff were below him.

Both also stated how they were left out of meetings, shouted at without justification, and had inappropriate comments made about their appearance. The women commented that the treatment they endured left them feeling undermined and undervalued.

During this period the women were on sick leave due to work-related stress, claiming that their complaints were not taken seriously. The case was recently settled by the AFBI, who stated that they had “failed” two of their colleagues. The Institute has since undertaken to meet with the Equality Commission to review its policies, practices and procedures to ensure they conform to equality legislation.

If you believe you have been subjected to sex discrimination in the workplace, you should contact your employer immediately. If you feel the issue is not resolved or addressed you should contact an employment solicitor to discuss further. MKB Law offer specialist advice and assistance with a range of employment issues, specifically in regard to sex and disability discrimination.

Suzanne Keenan, Employment Solicitor at MKB Law, comments: “I am delighted to see this outcome for these women. Unfortunately sex discrimination is most certainly not a thing of the past. Many women continue to suffer silently in the workplace. They need not do so, as the law is there to protect them from such treatment.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog, then please contact Suzanne Keenan on: 028 9024 2450

Additional Sources: nigirectgov.uk / equalityni.org

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