Understanding our sex-based rights and protections at work

We hear often from colleagues concerned that HR teams, management and staff training providers have made mistakes when they talk about equality law, and especially about sex-based rights and protections.

We’ve been given examples of mistakes in relation to women’s issues, including pregnancy and maternity. Many of our members are lesbian, gay or bisexual and have told us their concerns regarding misleading language about sexual orientation. Another common error we have seen is where policies or training incorrectly use the words ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ when they actually mean ‘sex’.

Sex-based rights and protections matter for everyone, so it’s important that everyone gets the law and language correct, or rights can be put at risk.

Everyone wants to get the law right, so if you find confusing or misleading workplace policies, staff training or communications, it’s a good idea to highlight these so that HR can check and, if necessary, make corrections. In particular, when any policy or communication concerns the Equality Act 2010, the correct legal language should be used, including the correct names of all the nine protected characteristics.

You don’t need to be an expert to reach out to your HR team and management if you think something has gone wrong in a workplace policy, training or communication. Any member of staff can set out concerns and ask them for a chat.

If you belong to a union, you can also tell your union what has happened and ask them to help you, including to talk to your HR team or management.

And don’t forget that union branch annual general meetings and national conferences are coming up very soon. Union members make union policies at these meetings, so if there is a policy you care about, make sure you take part and make your voice count.

Staff networks like SEEN are brilliant for information, support and friendship between colleagues, but only unions have an official right to be consulted by employers and only unions can provide you with representation and legal advice. So if you’re not already a member of a union, why not join one and ask them what they are doing to improve sex equality and equity in the civil service and protect sex-based rights?

Please do also continue to share your experiences with us so that we can better understand what support you need. We love to hear from you.

You can find clear information about sex-based rights, protections and equality and human rights law, including the Equality Act 2010 (and in particular the public sector equality duty (PSED), on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s independent watchdog on equality and human rights law. Here are some useful links:

Other links: