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Looking at behaviour that can cause race discrimination in the workplace

Published 28 January 2019

All employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to racism in the workplace and key to tackling unlawful discrimination is understanding the cause of it.

It can occur as a result of the actions of a supervisor or manager, other workers in a workplace that has a particular culture or because of a policy or practice that puts individuals from a different ethnic background at a disadvantage.

It can often go unchallenged and overlooked, because the behaviour is seen to be in keeping with what is considered the acceptable ethos of the work environment.

Race discrimination is when you are treated unfairly because of your race, or because of the race of someone you are connected with, such as your partner.  ‘Race’ includes colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins. (1)

A study conducted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2017 revealed that racism in the workplace remained a significant concern (2) Researchers quizzed more than 1,000 British black and minority ethnic (BME) people and revealed:

  • Nearly half (47%) of those who were verbally abused at work say this was because of their race.
  • 42% of those bullied or harassed say their direct manager was the main perpetrator.
  • Only 1 in 5 (20%) reported the bullying and felt their complaint was dealt with properly. 1 in 6 (16%) said they were treated less well after making a complaint.
  • Women experience particular discrimination. 2 in 5 (41%) wanted to leave their jobs because of bullying and harassment, but could not afford to.
  • 1 in 5 (19%) have experienced discrimination such as being denied training or promotion.

Race discrimination in the workplace can occur for any number of reasons. There is a tendency nowadays for unacceptable terminology and derogatory terms linked to someone’s race to be excused as ‘just a bit of banter’.

Discriminatory words and names can cause considerable offence. A Birmingham-based car dealership that dismissed racist language as ‘banter’ was successfully sued by a former employee for racial discrimination and victimisation. (3)

It was alleged that the employee was referred to by the name of an Asian character in the TV show the Simpsons, colleagues spoke in mock Asian accents and directed offensive Asian phrases at the worker.

The actions, behaviour and conduct of managers and senior employees can also result in an employee suffering race discrimination.

A former police officer reached a settlement with The Metropolitan Police after submitting a claim that included both race and sex discrimination

A tribunal panel ruled that the female firearms officer, who featured on posters for the London 2012 Olympics, had been singled out a targeted for a nearly a year. Her superior was said to have subjected her to ‘a course of treatement which was detrimental to her.’

The way in which an employer will implement work-based policies can also reveal situations in which BME employees are put at a disadvantage. A report by the Royal College of Midwives found that black midwives in London make up a disproportionate number of those facing disciplinary proceedings (5)

Almost half (44.1%) of the midwives employed in London are from a BME background. Yet, in the capital two-thirds (66.4%) of the midwives facing disciplinary proceedings are from a BME background.
Between July 2010 and June 2015, it was reported that 38 midwives were dismissed - 37 of whom were from a BME background.

We live in a diverse society and employees will come from a range of different backgrounds. Employers should work to prevent and tackle the causes of racial discrimination in the workplace

Organisations should have clear and established policies in place to tackle such behaviour and complaints should be taken seriously.

ACAS in producing a guide for employers on tackling race hate incidents in the workplace state: Employers should remember they have a duty of care to any victim of discrimination. Although going through the process is important to get things right, checking to see how the victim is feeling is also very important. (6)


1.Race discrimination [Internet] [Cited 28.1.19]

2.1 in 3 BME workers bullied [Internet]  [cited 28.1.19]

3.Discriminatory words [Internet] [cited 28.1.19]

4.Former police officer reaches settlement [Internet] BBC news [cited 28.1.19]

5.Disciplinary proceedings involving bme midwifes [Internet] RCM [Cited 28.1.19]

6.ACAS guide for tackling race hate incidents [Internet] ACAS [cited 28.1.19]

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A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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