Leading UK employment law experts highlight how sexual abuse in the work place goes far deeper than simple banter or inappropriate conduct.

In 1945 George Orwell wrote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The animals in Animal Farm, of course, all had the very human characteristics of real people.

Yet despite the passage of 67 years and of laws such as the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and the 2010 Equality Act, the principle that there are differences between us over and above those that our skills and qualifications allow still applies in many work places. Even today.

We all know that teasing, flirting, and playful banter with colleagues at work can be forms of sexual harassment if they are not well received; sex (or sexual) discrimination is completely different.

Sex discrimination refers to decisions made on the basis of the gender of an individual, or group of individuals. Not because they are sexy, or not sexy, have a nice smile or a nice bottom or any of the other personal comments that most people would recognise at once as being sexual in nature, but just because the person happens to be a woman (or a man, the principle – and the legislation – applies equally to both).

It is unlawful for any employer to treat any individual or group of individuals less favourably because of their gender, or because they happen to be married.

Comments Caroline Harper, employment law expert and founder of Your Employment Matters;

“Both sexual harassment and sex discrimination are a breach of employment rights and should not be tolerated. Such cases can be taken to the employment tribunals.

“Anyone who feels they are being subjected to this kind of behavior might wish to seek compensation for the way they are being treated. Your Employment Matters could help your case with professional and specialist advice and representation.”

It has long been recognized that women are hit hardest in a recession. A part of the reason for this is the type of jobs that women traditionally apply for; particularly when they need to work part time to fit in with their primary childcare responsibilities.

An editor once said to me, “If I didn’t know that you, a woman, had written these poems, I would like your work.” – Daisy Aldan

But there are also times when a woman – or even several women – are selected for redundancy, despite performing better than their male counterparts, on the prejudiced assumption that men are the main breadwinners and therefore need their jobs more.

Sexual harassment at work also includes men and women but differs from sexual discrimination because it deals with matters of a sexual nature.

Unwelcome comments, unwanted physical contact and unwanted attention such as leering at someone’s body are all acts of sexual harassment.

Displaying offensive material such as posters, sending offensive emails and downloading pornographic emails are forms of sexual harassment.

“Never underestimate a man’s ability to underestimate a woman…” – Kathleen Turner from the movie V.I. Warshawski.

Contact Your Employment Matters for help and professional advice relevant to your specific case.

Other Examples of Sexual Discrimination

– Getting a job or promotion
Appointing a man in preference to a woman who is better qualified for the role just because she is of child-bearing age (or pregnant) amounts to sexual discrimination… just as much as overlooking a woman for promotion and selecting a man instead.

– Benefits and training
It is easy to promote a man if the employer has already selected him for preferential opportunities such as training but unless such opportunities are available to men and women equally, that would amount to less favourable treatment – or unlawful sex discrimination.

– Pregnancy-related issues
Every year, 30,000 women are sacked or forced to leave their jobs because of pregnancy. A further 200,000 women face other kinds of work-related discrimination.

– Equal pay
At the last count, the Equal Opportunities Commission estimated it would take 25 years to close the gap between part time and full time workers’ pay and 45 years for women to receive a similar-sized pension to men…while salary-survey specialists CELRE and the Chartered Management Institute reckoned more like 187 years before pay for women overtakes the men.

– Flexibility for child care or relatives
Employer should not treat any individual less favourably, or withdraw (or fail to offer) benefits just because an employee has requested flexibility as a carer and such requests should be taken seriously, properly considered and only refused if there are genuine operational business reasons for doing so.