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Preventing race discrimination in the workplace

Published 27 January 2020

Racism of any type is abhorrent and dealing effectively with such allegations in the workplace is vital.

Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to such unlawful behaviour.

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination based on their race in both the workplace and wider society. (1)

Under the Act:

  • Race includes a person’s colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origin
  • A person can be discriminated against because of their perceived race (perceptive discrimination), or the race of someone they associate with (associative discrimination), not just their own actual race
  • A person is protected during recruitment, employment, dismissal and redundancy
  • Other types of race discrimination include direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation

Caste – in summary a class structure that is determined by birth - is not specifically covered in the Act's definition of race, but case law has established that it is feasible for an employee to bring a claim for race discrimination on the basis of caste

In Chandok and another v Tirkey the employee - part of the Adivasi caste, which she claimed was a low and ‘servant caste’ – was paid 11p an hour and employed as a live-in domestic servant, originally in India and subsequently in the UK. (2)

The employment tribunal held that caste discrimination amounts to discrimination on grounds of descent, which constitutes direct race discrimination based on ethnic origin. The claimant was awarded £184,000.

So what should employers do to prevent race discrimination and create an equal and diverse workplace?

Clear and established policies should be in place and reviewed and updated regularly. Those policies should cover areas such as recruitment, performance reviews and appraisals and dismissal and redundancy all of which have the potential to be discriminatory.

This type of policy should be communicated to all staff. Managers and employees should have an awareness of what constitutes discrimination as it will help to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities.

If a complaint of race discrimination is raised it is often a line manager who will be the first point of direct contact. They should be able to recognise all forms of discrimination, have the skills and be equipped to deal with issues quickly to prevent them from escalating, and also know where to seek appropriate support if needed.

When dealing with a complaint of race discrimination it is crucial to ensure all of those involved are treated reasonably and sympathetically, including the complainant and the alleged wrongdoer. The sensitive nature of such matters means confidentiality should be maintained for as long as practicable.

In dealing with any complaint the process should consider guidance provided by ACAS. (3)

The nature of a complaint of race discrimination means there is a strong likelihood it could proceed to an employment tribunal if not resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction.

Therefore, it is important that employers can demonstrate they have taken the complaint seriously and conducted a fair and proper process in dealing with it.

Previous research has suggested that racism is prevalent in UK workplaces. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) commissioned the Racism at Work survey, which reported that one in 10 ethnic minority respondents and six per cent of non-British white participants reported that they had experienced racist violence at work. (4)

Of the five thousand people that took part in the study, a third reported that they had been bullied and/or subjected to insensitive questioning, 23 per cent said racial discrimination had caused them to leave their job and 28 per cent took sick leave after being subjected to racism.

An employer’s failure to deal with race discrimination can prove costly. There is currently no cap on the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a claimant in the event that such a claim is successful,

In 2018 an NHS trust was ordered to pay £1m in damages to a former employee after a tribunal found he was unfairly dismissed and faced racial discrimination. (5)

Employers should make it clear that there will be zero-tolerance in the workplace for any form of racist abuse or harassment whether from visitors, customers, clients or employees.



(1) Discrimination based on race [Internet] [Cited 27/01/2020]

(2) Under Minimum Wage [Internet] [Cited 27/01/2020]

(3) Complaint Process [Internet] [Cited 27/01/2020]

(4) Racism is prevalent in UK workplaces [Internet] [cited 27/01/2020]

(5) NHS trust was ordered to pay £1m [Internet] [Cited 27/01/2020]


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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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