Having Issues? - Discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination in the workplace occurs when a person or group of people are treated less favourably than others. It is unlawful and if it is happening to you, there are things you can do to put an end to it.

Your employer cannot discriminate against you because of your:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Gender reassignment
  • Colour
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Nationality
  • Pregnancy or maternity leave
  • Sexual orientation
  • Part-time employment status
  • Fixed-term contract

The aim of equality law is to ensure that everyone is on a level playing field and employees only distinguished because of their relevant skills and abilities.

Types of discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace can take a number of different forms:

Direct – Direct discrimination involves being treated less favourably than another for one of the above reasons. For example direct discrimination can occur if you have been passed over for promotion, dismissed, chosen for redundancy, disciplined, or paid less because of one of the above reasons.

Indirect – Indirect discrimination occurs when one group of people are put at a disadvantage because of a particular rule or practice at work. For example, if an employer only promotes employees whose first language is English; this will disadvantage a particular group of employees more than the others. Indirect discrimination is unlawful regardless of whether or not it was intentional.  However, it can be justified if an employer can show it is proportionate and is for a legitimate business aim.

Harassment – Harassment is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating and intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual’. It includes unwanted physical contact, offensive jokes, gossip, slander, persistent criticism, exclusion and the display of offensive material. 

Victimisation – Victimisation occurs when a person is treated less favourable than others because they have made, or tried to make, a complaint about discrimination. A person may be experiencing victimisation if they are prevented from completing training, being subject to disciplinary procedures, or being passed over for promotion after they have made a complaint about discrimination in the workplace.

What can you do about it?

If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, you are advised initially to raise it informally with your supervisor or manager. If your supervisor or manager is the one discriminating against you, you can contact your human resources department or a more senior member of staff.

If raising your grievance informally has not stopped the discriminatory behaviour, you can raise a formal grievance with your employer. Your employer should have a procedure in place that allows you to raise your grievance in accordance with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (the Acas Code).

If your formal grievance does not resolve the problem, you may be able to pursue a discrimination claim in an Employment Tribunal. In addition, if you have been dismissed for a discriminatory reason, you will have an automatic unfair dismissal claim against your employer in an Employment Tribunal.

It is important to remember that you only have three months to make your claim in an Employment Tribunal from the date of the discriminatory incident or your dismissal.

Job Justice can help

 If you are facing discrimination in the workplace, you may want to speak to an employment solicitor and get some legal advice about your position. We can put you in touch with one of our specialist employment solicitors. Simply call us for free on 0800 533 5799 or fill in our online contact form and we’ll be in touch to discuss your situation.


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