Gender and Gender Identity as Protected Characteristics in the Workplace

Sandra Healy
CEO and Founder at inclusio
April 12, 2023 - 4 min read

In the UK and Ireland, it is illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their gender or gender identity in any aspect of employment.  

The Employment Equality Acts 1998  is the legislation in Ireland that covers employees in both the public and private sectors as well as applicants for employment and training.  Section 8 of The Act outlaws discrimination by employers and section 22 covers indirect discrimination on the gender ground. The Act prohibits discrimination in work-related areas such as pay, vocational training, access to employment, work experience, and promotion.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 is the primary legislation that protects employees from discrimination based on their protected characteristics, which includes gender and gender identity.

Under this legislation, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the grounds of their gender or gender identity. This includes discrimination in hiring, promotions, training, or other benefits and conditions of employment.  

Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that the workplace is accessible to all employees, regardless of gender or gender identity.  

The Equality Act 2010 also protects employees from harassment related to gender and gender identity. This includes unwanted behaviour, such as comments or gestures, that create a hostile or offensive work environment.  

Employers have a duty to investigate and address any harassment complaints made by their employees.  

Furthermore, employees who have undergone gender reassignment are protected under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.  

This includes the right to be treated according to their acquired gender, as well as protection against harassment and discrimination in the workplace.  

In summary, the UK has a comprehensive legal framework in place to protect employees from discrimination based on gender and gender identity. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplaces are inclusive and respectful, and that all employees are treated fairly and with dignity.



What is Gender and Gender Identity? 

Gender refers to the cultural and social roles, behaviours, and expectations that are associated with being male or female. Gender Identity, on the other hand, refers to an individual's internal sense of their gender, and whether they identity as a man, woman, nonbinary or any other gender. This is a deeply personal and individual aspect of a person's identity that may or may not align with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

In the context of workplace discrimination, gender and gender identity are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. This means it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender or gender identity when it comes to recruitment, promotions, pay, training, or any other aspect of employment.  

Discrimination based on gender identity can take many forms, including refusing to hire someone due to their gender identity or requiring them to dress in accordance with their assigned gender at birth.  

Discrimination based on gender can include paying someone less than their peers of the opposite gender or withholding opportunities for training or promotions simply because of their gender.  

Employers are required to create a workplace free of discrimination and harassment on the grounds of gender or gender identity. They also have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for employees whose gender identity may require adjustments in the workplace.  

These adjustments can range from specific restroom facilities, dress codes, or adjusting the employee’s name on their records to align with their gender identity.  

Overall, protecting against gender and gender identity discrimination in the workplace is crucial, as work should provide equal opportunities and promote inclusion regardless of gender or gender identity. 


How to Limit Gender and Gender Identity Discrimination in the Workplace  

Having clear and effective policies and procedures in place to prevent and address workplace discrimination based on gender and gender identity is essential for creating a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees.  

Such policies and procedures help educate both employees and management on what constitutes workplace discrimination and provide guidelines for reporting incidents of discrimination.  

Having these policies and procedures in place also helps to establish a culture of accountability. Employees are more likely to respect and adhere to a company's policies and procedures when they know that there will be consequences for failing to do so. In addition, when employees have a clear understanding of the expectations and standards for behaviour in the workplace, they are less likely to engage in discriminatory behaviour themselves.  

Effective policies and procedures should outline the process for reporting discrimination, including who to contact and what steps will be taken to address the situation. They should also ensure confidentiality, so employees feel comfortable reporting any incidents of discrimination without fear of retaliation or repercussions.  

It is important for organisations to be proactive in their approach to preventing and addressing discrimination based on gender and gender identity. By having clear and effective policies and procedures in place, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees and help prevent incidents of discrimination from occurring in the first place.  

Employees play a vital role in preventing and reporting discrimination based on gender and gender identity. While policies and procedures can be put in place, it is up to employees to actively benefit from them by speaking up and reporting any incidents of discrimination that they witness or experience.  

When employees speak up, they demonstrate their commitment to maintaining an inclusive workplace and help to hold their colleagues and managers accountable for their actions.  

Reporting incidents of discrimination can also help prevent future incidents by addressing the issue and preventing it from escalating. It's important for employees to feel comfortable reporting discrimination, and for employers to make sure that reporting channels are accessible, effective, and confidential.  

Employers should also provide clear information about what constitutes workplace discrimination and how to report it and ensure that all employees receive this training when they join the company.  

Employees can also play a role in preventing discrimination by being aware of their own biases and taking steps to address them. This includes actively listening to colleagues and treating them with respect, being aware of micro-aggressions, and seeking out training or educational resources to better understand how gender and gender identity affect the workplace.  

In summary, employees play an important role in preventing and addressing workplace discrimination based on gender and gender identity. By speaking up, reporting incidents of discrimination, and being aware of their own biases, employees can help maintain a safe and inclusive workplace for everyone. 


Common Questions about Gender and Gender Identity 


Is gender reassignment a protected characteristic? 

Yes, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic. 

Transgender individuals in the UK have the right to be treated fairly and equally in the workplace, under the Equality Act 2010. This includes the right to work in an environment free from harassment or discrimination based on their gender identity.  

Transgender individuals also have the right to access appropriate facilities, such as restrooms and changing rooms, in accordance with their gender identity.  

Employers have a duty to accommodate any adjustments required for transgender individuals, including the use of unique pronouns or name changes in employment records. Discrimination against transgender individuals in the workplace is illegal, and employees have the right to file a harassment or discrimination complaint through a grievance procedure. 


What constitutes gender discrimination in the workplace? 

Employees may experience a number of different forms of discrimination based on their gender or gender identity in the workplace. One of the most common forms of discrimination is pay inequality, where employees are paid less than individuals performing the same work with the opposite gender. This form of pay gap is known as the gender pay gap and has been illegal in the UK since 1970.  

Another form of gender-based discrimination is discrimination in promotion opportunities. Women and individuals who identify as feminine or non-binary may experience less opportunity for promotion or fewer chances for career development than those who identify as masculine or male.  

This can be particularly true for women or non-binary individuals who are already underrepresented in certain fields or industries. Harassment in the workplace can also be a common issue based on gender or gender identity. This can include unwanted comments, gestures, or other forms of behaviour that make an individual feel unwelcome, excluded, or humiliated.  

This type of harassment can be particularly harmful and create a hostile work environment. Gender-based discrimination can also be an issue in recruitment or hiring practices, where hiring managers or recruiters may show biases towards certain genders or assume that a candidate's gender or gender identity will make them unsuitable for certain roles.  

It is vital that employers take proactive steps to ensure equal pay, equal promotion opportunities, and an inclusive culture free of harassment in the workplace. By doing this, they can create a culture of equality and respect that benefits employees and leads to more productive and positive work environments. 


Is sexual orientation a protected characteristic? 

Yes, sexual orientation is a protected characteristic. 



Best Practices and Conclusion 

To prevent discrimination based on gender and gender identity in the workplace, organisations can follow best practices that promote inclusivity, respect, and equality for all employees. Below are some of the best practices that organisations can consider:  

  1. Establish clear policies and procedures that prohibit gender and gender identity discrimination.

  2. Provide training to employees and management on issues related to gender and gender identity discrimination.

  3. Ensure equal pay and promotion opportunities for all employees.

  4. Provide support and accommodations for employees with gender identity changes, including access to inclusive restrooms.

  5. Include gender-neutral language in all written materials such as job descriptions, employee handbooks, and marketing materials.

  6. Foster an inclusive culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the organisation.

  7. Encourage and facilitate open and respectful communication between employees.

  8. Have confidential reporting channels in place for employees to report any instances of discrimination, harassment, or bullying based on gender and gender identity.

  9. Investigate all reports of discrimination promptly and take appropriate disciplinary action against any individuals who engage in discriminatory behaviour.

  10. Regularly review policies and procedures and make updates as necessary to ensure they are aligned with best practices.

    By implementing these best practices, organisations can help to create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive workplace culture that values and respects diversity for all employees, regardless of gender or gender identity.


About the Author: 

Sandra is an Organisational Psychologist and NLP Master Practitioner. Over 17 years she has championed and driven diversity and inclusion practice across industry and is considered a leading expert. In 2014, she was involved in establishing the EU Diversity Charter Ireland. In 2020 Sandra was a member of the Expert Advisory Group for Ireland’s Citizens Assembly. 

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