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Women's employment rights are strengthened

Sex discrimination burden of proof is reversed in favour of employees
Written by Andrew Swinton, Contributor

Women who have experienced sex discrimination at work, will from 12 October have an increased chance of compensation when new legislation comes into effect.

In cases where women have either received less pay than male colleagues, or where they missed out on promotion, they will in future not be required to prove that they have been victims of discrimination.

The burden of proof will now be on employers to prove that they have not discriminated against their employee. This shift of legislation is within the Sex Discrimination (Indirect Discrimination and Burden of Proof) Regulations 2001 and will have a major impact for all employers.

Women will still have to present a 'prima facie' case at an employment tribunal, where for example a woman did not get promotion where a less qualified man was selected. Now the employer will have to prove that they are not guilty of sex discrimination.

Aileen Lauder, an employment lawyer at Landwell Solicitors believes that this change in the law "will not make a big difference in practical terms. If you are bringing a sex discrimination case often a tribunal or the press will assume there is no smoke without fire. If I was acting for a respondent in a sex discrimination case, I would always try to disprove the allegations positively."

Lauder believes the change in the law is a good thing as it makes easier to claim sex discrimination as an individual female. It is positive because it gives women statutory back up. There is no legal aid however and you do not get your costs back if successful due to Tribunal rules.

Contractual pay claims are brought under the Equal pay legislation, whereas treatment claims, ie failure to get a job for example, are brought under Sex Discrimination legislation.

Meriel Schindler, head of employment at Withers, a City law firm says, "The reversal of the burden of proof will make it easier for applicants to win their cases. The cabinet office has sought to play down the impact and represented it is a codification of what already goes on in the tribunal."

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