Is telling an employee to ‘man up’ sex discrimination?


In Woods v NHS Property Services Limited, a male employee who was told to ‘man up’ when he complained about being punched by a female colleague complained about sex discrimination.

In January 2020 Mr Woods raised a grievance about a female colleague who had punched him three times. The grievance outcome partially upheld the complaint in that it accepted the claimant had been punched by his colleague but held that the action was not malicious in intent and there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate strong force was used.

An apology from the colleague and mediation between her and the claimant was recommended, and the claimant was advised to remain professional with her. When Mr Woods asked to be redeployed as he did not feel comfortable or safe working with the female colleague, he was told by the HR business partner to ‘man up’ and return to his role.


Mr Woods lost his claim because he presented it 13 months out of time but what does the case tell us?


Develop a clear equity, diversity and inclusion policy that describes the effect of the Equality Act 2010 and the behaviour that the business will consider unacceptable.


Implement your policy with training for existing employees as well as new recruits. Provide annual refresher training to all staff.


When you deliver training, tell your workforce the terms and phrases that are unacceptable and potentially discriminatory. Provide a pathway for victims to complain and warn perpetrators of the likely sanctions.


Use your policy and training to protect your business from the effect of discrimination claims. If you also take appropriate disciplinary action when faced with discriminatory conduct, you can avoid liability for claims of discrimination at an employment tribunal by showing that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in your workplace.