Gender discrimination

03 October 2019

Ireland has strong laws against gender discrimination in the workplace. The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 (the EEA) prohibit discrimination in employment across nine specific grounds.

In this guide, we explore what these are and how they affect your business.

Gender-based discrimination in the workplace

There are nine protected characteristics under the EEA. Employers must treat employees equally in relation to employment based on the:

  • Gender ground: If the employee is a woman, a man, or a transgender person
  • The civil status ground: If the employee is single, married, separated, divorced, widowed or in a civil partnership
  • Family status ground: If the employee is the parent or person responsible for a child under 18, or the main carer or parent of a person with a disability who needs ongoing care
  • Sexual orientation ground: If the employee is gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual
  • Religious ground: Includes all religious beliefs are, and employees who have no religious beliefs
  • Age ground: All employees over the legal school-leaving age receive protection against age-related discrimination under the EEA
  • Race ground: Including the nationality or ethnic background of employees
  • Traveller community: If employees are members of the Traveller community
  • Disability ground: If the employee has a disability.

As you can see, discrimination on the basis of gender is specifically outlawed in the context of employment to include:

  • Advertising.
  • Equal pay.
  • Access to employment.
  • Vocational training and work experience.
  • Terms and conditions of employment.
  • Promotion or re-grading.
  • Classification of posts.
  • Dismissal.
  • Collective agreements.

Ways in which gender discrimination manifests at work

There’s a wide variety of examples of gender discrimination in the workplace.

One of the most obvious forms of gender discrimination at work is where men and women receive pay differently for the same work.

Another example is when seemingly neutral rules prefer one gender over the other. Offering a promotion opportunity to only full-time employees may discriminate against female employees for instance who are more likely to be part-time employees.

Likewise, if you offer training or work experience opportunities to male employees more than female employees (or vice versa) and the training allows those employees to advance their careers, this may amount to gender-based discrimination.

The EEA also require employers to prevent bullying and harassment from taking place in the workplace. If allegations of sexual harassment arise, these are also examples of gender discrimination for which an employer could be liable.   

Preventing gender discrimination in your workplace

As employment-related gender discrimination in Ireland is strictly prohibited, it is vital that you take the necessary precautions to prevent discrimination issues arising in your workplace.

Gender-based discrimination claims made up nearly 18% of all employment equality complaints in 2018. While the majority of gender discrimination claims are from women, gender discrimination against males is just as equally prohibited under the EEA.

The best way to prevent all kinds of discrimination from occurring in your workplace is to develop an Equal Opportunities Policy which includes a clear gender discrimination policy setting out how your organisation promotes dignity and respect at work.  

The Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice (Harassment) 2012 sets out useful guidelines to show you how to deal with gender discrimination in the workplace.

The Code of Practice recommends that you put an effective and accessible dignity and respect policy in place as part of a commitment to promoting equality of opportunity in the workplace.

Developing a clear dignity and respect policy and communicating it to employees is the best answer to the question of how to stop gender discrimination in your workplace. 

Is positive discrimination permissible?

While discrimination is unlawful, the EEA do allow for, “positive action for equal opportunities". In certain circumstances that allows positive gender discrimination.

If your organisation wants to take certain measures to ensure gender equality, a provision in the EEA will allow them if their purpose is to ensure “full equality in practice between men and women in their employments”.

Positive action in practice

One way in which many employers take positive action to promote gender equality is to provide flexible work options to certain employees.

For instance, as female employees tend to be the primary carers in their families (for children, dependants and elderly parents), providing flexibility around working hours or working from home options to female employees with caring responsibilities would be a positive discriminatory action and may be permitted under the EEA.

Gender discrimination is an expensive risk

Employees do not have to have completed any length of service with an employer to make an employment equality claim.

Claims taken under the EEA may also lead to unlimited awards of compensation in gender discrimination cases.

It's vital you take the necessary precautions to protect your business against the substantial risks posed by gender discrimination claims.

Gender-based discrimination can cost your business dear. Get immediate help to make sure your workplace treats everyone equally: 0818 923 923.

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