Racial Discrimination at Work

By Dally Rai
06 Feb 2024

Racial Discrimination and legislation

There are various pieces of legislation to do with racial discrimination in the UK. They protect individuals from racial discrimination in the workplace.

With the government introducing the Equality Act of 2010, this act consolidated a lot of previous legislation into one act. This set out in one place that It was illegal to discriminate against people, rather than in various acts.

The equality act stated that anyone with one of nine protected characteristics cannot be discriminated against according to employment law.

One of these nine is race, nationality, or ethnicity.

Let’s look at what legislation affects racial discrimination as well as how you can avoid any employment tribunal claims.

What is race discrimination?

Treating a person less favourably on grounds of race, colour, nationality or ethnic background at work.

This is race discrimination in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 replaced the Race Relations Act 1976. This act was often known as the race discrimination act.

This made it illegal to racially discriminate in public places. It also made the promotion of hatred on the grounds of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins' an offence.

Indirect vs direct racial discrimination

There are four types of discrimination under the Equality Act:

While there are four forms, the main two we shall address are direct and indirect. This is because they are the most widely affecting forms when it comes to employee-employer relationships.

Direct racial discrimination is where an employee is treated less favourably because of their race, colour, ethnicity or nationality.

Indirect racial discrimination is a policy that applies in the same way for everybody but disadvantages a group of people who share the same racial group, ethnic group, etc. It can be justified if it represents a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Examples of race discrimination

Discrimination can occur at any point in an employer-employee relationship.

This means employees can make a claim against employers at any point. You must understand how it can arise at all stages of the relationship.

Understanding how it can occur is one of the best ways to avoid cases of racial harassment or discrimination. Let’s look at examples of both direct and indirect racial discrimination.

Example of direct discrimination in terms of race

Direct race discrimination requires an employer to treat someone less favourably due to race. We compare this to other employees' treatment at the company.

The following is an example of direct race discrimination. An employee is from a particular racial group and the employer refuses to appoint them because of racial reasons.

The reasons the employer gives could be that the employee ‘wouldn’t fit in’ or ‘the customers would object’.

The employee could take this to an employment tribunal. The court would likely find that these reasons given discriminated against the employee because of their race.

Example of indirect discrimination in terms of race

This type of discrimination is much easier to fall into without meaning to. It is when a policy affects a group less favourably because of race.

This would be indirect racial discrimination.

An example of this can be as simple as specifying that an applicant would need a UK based qualification. This would be discrimination if the applicant has an equal, acceptable overseas qualification.

For example, refusing an applicant for a marketing job because their degree is from India rather than the UK.

The employee could take this to an employment tribunal. The court would likely find this indirect racial discrimination.

Notable race discrimination cases

There are some notable race discrimination examples in employment case law. These cases lead to a costly payout to the employees.

One of the most high-profile cases in the UK was with two former British paratroopers. Hani Gue and Nkululeko Zulu took the Ministry of Defence to court. They did so for the years of racial discrimination they endured while serving at Colchester.

Exceptions to discrimination law

Many believe that business can legally discriminate if it is for a positive reason. One example often cited is the idea of diversity quotas.

These are, in fact, unlawful and are an act of discrimination against white people.

Employers may use positive action when hiring, which makes it easier for disadvantaged employees to apply for roles. But they cannot discriminate based on any of the characteristics when hiring.

So, is it ever legal to discriminate? Yes, there is one instance: objective justification.

This makes certain cases of indirect discrimination lawful. For example, a protected characteristic can be an occupational requirement. You can reserve certain jobs for people with that protected characteristic.

 If the role is a support worker for a charity helps victims of abuse from a certain country, the role may need that supporter to be from the country.

Get the support you need

Ensuring your workplace is free of racial discrimination is imperative. It can help escape costly, unfair dismissal claims or other tribunals.

Keeping up to date with the latest legislation is difficult. But we’re here to help make sure you don’t fall foul of race discrimination at work.

Call us and we’ll take you through what you need to do: 0145 585 8132.

About the Author

Dally Rai

An experienced HR Consultant / Employment Solicitor - providing practical and pragmatic advice on all aspects of employment law including unfair dismissal, redundancy, TUPE and discrimination.