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Sex discrimination

All teachers and educational professionals have specific protection from discrimination at work on grounds of sex, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity and transgender status, and to equal pay under the Equality Act 2010. 

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You are protected whether you are a man or a woman and if you have a gender recognition certificate. Discrimination because you are perceived as being of a sex, or because you associate with someone of a particular sex, will be unlawful. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from discriminating against you. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from discriminating against you.

What sex discrimination is

Treating you less favourably than another worker in similar circumstances on grounds of sex would be direct sex discrimination.

Applying to all staff a workplace policy or practice, that you and other workers of the same sex cannot comply with because of your sex, would be indirect sex discrimination if it puts you at a disadvantage, unless the employer can justify the impact of the policy or practice. 

When you are protected from sex discrimination

You are protected from sex discrimination before, during and after your employment. There should be no unlawful discrimination in recruitment including advertisements, shortlisting and interview procedures; terms and conditions of employment; access to training; opportunities for promotion; transfers; dismissals; and after your employment has ended, for example, in the provision of references.

What is covered

Appointing a man, rather than a woman with superior qualifications and more experience, to the post of principal of a secondary school on the assumption that a woman would not have the gravitas to lead the school, would be direct discrimination; bias whether conscious or unconscious can lead to discriminatory decisions.

Refusing to appoint the best qualified applicant to a teaching post in an infant school, on the grounds that he is a man and that a woman would be preferred, and appointing instead a less qualified woman, could be sex discrimination.

An employer’s failure to treat an employee’s menopause in the same way as other medical conditions under its performance management policy could amount to direct sex discrimination.

An unreasonable refusal by a governing body to allow a woman to return to work part-time following maternity leave would be indirect sex discrimination, unless the employer could justify the decision or the impact of it on women in the school.

The Equality Act also imposes into all employment contracts a sex equality clause which states that women doing equal work with a man in the same employment are entitled to equal pay and contractual terms that are no less favourable than the man’s.

Subjecting a teacher to verbal or physical sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful. 

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What is not covered

Treatment that has nothing to do with your sex, which the employer can show is wholly and genuinely for a non-discriminatory reason, or treatment which lawfully can be justified by the employer, will not be unlawful. Treatment that you might feel is unfair will not necessarily be discriminatory.

Failing to appoint you to a promoted post which you were qualified to do, on the grounds that another candidate of the opposite sex was better qualified following an objective selection process, would not be unlawful sex discrimination.

Employers may use 'positive action' to encourage women or men to apply to particular posts if women or men, respectively, are under-represented in the workforce or at a particular grade in the workforce. If a woman and a man are as qualified as each other for a post, employers may use ‘tie-break’ provisions to appoint the woman, if women are under-represented at that grade, or the man, if men are under-represented at that grade. Contact the NEU if you need advice on an employer's use of positive action.

Employers sometimes specify that it is an occupational requirement for a post to be held by a woman or a man. Such requirements are more likely to be acceptable in residential education settings. Contact the union if you think such action has been used inappropriately to your disadvantage.

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What to do if you think that you have been discriminated against.

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