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The impact of discrimination in the workplace

Published 26 March 2018

While much has been written about discrimination in the workplace there has not been as much focus on the wide-ranging and devastating ramifications it can have.

The consequences of such unlawful behaviour can be far-reaching, distressing and damaging for all concerned.

It can - in fact does - destroy lives, careers and hard earned personal, professional and business reputations.

Not all discrimination is obvious and it can be subtle and difficult to spot. It can include comments, jokes, or behaviour that makes people feel uncomfortable or unwanted.

Discrimination means treating a person unfairly because of who they are or because they possess certain characteristics. The Equality Act 2010 highlights nine protected characteristics (1).






Pregnancy and maternity

Sexual orientation

Gender reassignment

Marriage and civil partnership

Despite this type of behaviour being illegal in the UK recent research suggests that it is still be prevalent in workplaces.

A total of 80 per cent of UK women think that gender discrimination occurs in the workplace and almost a third consider it to be inherent, according to survey by an accrediting body for the human resources industry (2)

The Trade Union Congress has released its latest figures that show more than half (57 per cent) of black and minority ethnic (BME) women who took part in the poll said they have suffered mental health problems as a result of being bullied and harassed (3).

And Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a new programme to address ethnic disparities in youth unemployment after figures showed 16 to 24 year olds from BME groups were twice as likely to be unemployed as their white peers (4).

The personal impact on the victim of discrimination was again highlighted during the recent case of a Northampton prison officer (5).

The 48-year-old female worker reportedly settled a claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against the Secretary of State for Justice after she was made ill when forced to work on a sex offenders unit. This was after she had been permanently restricted from working on the unit following a recommendation from Occupational Health

The report of the case details how the officer suffered anxiety attacks, bouts of physical illness and an exacerbation of symptoms of depression which were caused by work requests.

When workplace discrimination is widespread, morale drops, trust is broken and inevitably this can also impact financially on an organisation.

Figures released in March, 2018, show the economic cost of workplace discrimination to the UK Economy is £127 billion every year (6).

The study of payment practices of over 500 workplaces predicted that GDP would be about seven per cent higher if gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation discrimination were eliminated.

The report by INvolve and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recommended that employers consider a number of ways to address this, which includes appointing diversity champions on their executive teams.

Successful claims for discrimination can damage the reputation of an organisation and its leaders.

A 35-year-old black female police officer was awarded £37,000 after she successfully sued the Metropolitan Police for race and sex discrimination (7). An Employment Tribunal ruled she had been ‘singled out and targeted’ for nearly a year.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former Met Commissioner, was criticised personally for attempting to ‘brush off’ her treatment as ‘insignificant’, and his failure to apologise to led to the award of aggravated damages against Scotland Yard.

Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and be committed to tackling such behaviour using established, clear and recognised procedures.

All complaints should be taken seriously and investigated and resolved without unreasonable delay.


1. What Is Discrimination? « EOC [Internet]. [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

2. 8 IN 10 FEMALE WORKERS IN THE UK BELIEVE THAT WORKPLACE GENDER DISCRIMINATION EXISTS | Investors in People [Internet]. [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

3. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. BME people still facing racism and discrimination at work, says TUC [Internet]. TUC. 2018 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

4. Government announces major programme to tackle inequalities in youth unemployment - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

5. Northampton prison officer wins compensation after suffering anxiety attacks when working on sex offenders unit [Internet]. [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

6. Cebr research with involve on “The Value of Diversity” | Centre for Economics and Business Research [Internet]. [cited 2018 Mar 19]. Available from:

7. Met settles with “targeted” officer. BBC News [Internet]. 2015 Feb 14 [cited 2018 Mar 19]; Available from:


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