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Race Discrimination in the Workplace

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 28 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Workers' Rights Discrimination

Legislation to outlaw racial discrimination has been with us in the UK for 40 years, but the real change came in with the Race Relations Act of 1976. This made discrimination in the workplace illegal, which wasn’t enough to stop it, but more importantly gave those affected by discrimination the right to bring action through Employment Tribunals and the courts.

The Act was amended in 2001 to bring public bodies, such as the police and local authorities, under its wing. The Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of colour, nationality and ethnic or national origin.

What is Race Discrimination?

There are various forms of discrimination. It can be in obvious forms, known as ‘direct’ discrimination, such as not employing or promoting particular groups of people. Another example is harassing them in the workplace with racial jokes and taunting.

More subtle forms, known as ‘indirect’ discrimination, include policies and practices that discriminate indirectly, such as a clothing policy that means that certain ethnic groups can’t wear traditional clothing at work.

It could be that the discrimination is naïve, particularly with indirect discrimination. The majority of the workforce might not be aware that certain behaviour, such as telling particular jokes or using specific words, is considered offensive by particular minorities. In this case, the employer has a duty of care to educate the workforce.

Who the Act Protects

One important point about the Act is that it not only makes it illegal for discrimination to take place, it also makes it illegal for employers not to put a stop to it. It also gives people who see discrimination, but are not subjected to it, the right to report it and get something done about it.

It is understandably difficult to work up the courage to take action in the workplace on seeing racial discrimination, but note that the Act also outlaws victimisation of someone who has taken out a discrimination complaint.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are exceptions to the Act. If an employer can make a genuine case for employing someone of a particular ethnic origin, then that will be allowed. An example might be advertising for a black actor to play Martin Luther King in a film or play.

There is also scope for taking positive action, where an employer can appeal for people of a particular background to apply because they feel that group is under-represented in their workforce. This is different to positive discrimination, which is only hiring people from a particular racial background. This is just as illegal in the UK as refusing to employ people from certain racial or ethnic groups.

Where Can you Get Help?

Look at our Taking Action Against Discrimination article in this section, which covers the steps to take if you are suffering, or have witnessed, racial discrimination in the workplace. For independent and unbiased advice, contact the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). There is also a great deal of information on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills site.

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@NONE - If an employer pays someone less than their peers, or refuses them benefits that other equivalent employees have access to, because of their age, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs, it could constitute unlawful discrimination. However, if an employer can show that there's a genuine reason for any difference in pay that's not based on the sex or any other difference of the individual, then the equal pay legislation may not apply. According to Acas, one common reason that someone may be paid more for like work is because of his or her experience or 'length of service'. It is generally viewed that the longer the service, the greater the experience. However, there are exceptions in that area too. I suggest that in the first instance you give ACAS a call directly on 0300 123 1100 and also raise the issue of potential bullying. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 29-Oct-14 @ 10:43 AM
I have been working for this company almost 10 years, when I first started working it was only me, during all the billing of Medicaid, Medicare, Commerical and Patient billing, plus posting of all payment and working all denials on all billing issues. I was paid 11.00 per hour, then I received a pay raise to 13.00 in 2010, then in 2013 i received a .50 more raise. In 2013 he hired 2 new people to help in the billing office and he is paying them 15.00 per hour, can i consider this as discrimination, even when we have meeting he talk down to me in meetings infront of other worker. I am the only black working in this office facility. Can something be done about my situation.
NONE - 28-Oct-14 @ 2:51 PM
Does a complaint have to prove that actions were racially motivated and if no other good reason can be established, is that enough to succeed?
Cyberbimbo - 19-Sep-11 @ 9:01 PM
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