How to tackle racial discrimination in the workplace

Karen Holden of A City Law Firm outlines employee rights and employer responsibilities around racial discrimination and highlights how intersectional discrimination affects BAME women in the workplace.

Women In Technology


As Black History Month draws to a close, Karen Holden from A City Law Firm looks at intersectional issues around discrimination, in particular how racial discrimination and gender discrimination can combine to hold BAME women back.

Although progress has been made with tackling racial discrimination in recent decades it lives on in the workplace in less overt and more nuanced forms.

What is racial discrimination?

Racial discrimination occurs when you are treated differently because of your race in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act (2010). Such treatment could be a one-off action or the result of a rule or policy based on race and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. Despite such preventative measures being introduced to stop racial discrimination in the workplace, its presence is undeniable.

How are woman subject to racial and other forms of discrimination?

In the UK, there are over 20.6 million women in the working age population of which 2.9 million (14%) are from a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Despite this, there is a significant difference in the employment rates between white women (72.6%) and BAME women (55.8%). The employment rates would strongly suggest that woman are currently subject to racial discrimination in the workplace, but discrimination does not stop there.

The recent reporting on the gender pay gap has also cast a light on cases of inequality in large corporations and emphasised the failings of the structural barriers to women’s progression in organisations. The UK has one of the highest gender pay gaps in Europe, recording the fourth biggest difference in median pay between men and women in the EU in 2016 (according to Eurostat 2018). The gender pay gap in the UK is currently estimated at 17%, with the median weekly pay for women estimated at £494 in April 2017, compared to £592 for men.

Such findings provide clear evidence that woman are subject to multiple forms of work based discrimination – not to mention surrounding sexual harassment. The evidence is very clear and issues surrounding inequality and discrimination need to be urgently addressed.

What are the laws surrounding racial discrimination in the workplace? And what are a business’s responsibilities when it comes to managing bullying and discrimination?

The Equality Act (2010) sets out the legal requirements in this area and if you are a business you should ensure that your company is compliant with this act. If you are an individual and you fear you are subject to such discrimination, the Equality Act provides protection against discrimination based on race.

The key provisions of the Equality Act are:

  • The Act provides a basic framework of protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in services and public functions, premises, work, education, associations and transport;
  • It protects people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sex;
  • It allows claims for direct gender pay discrimination; and
  • Employment tribunals have new powers to make recommendations if discrimination is suspected.

Whether you are a business owner or an employee, knowledge of this Act is imperative so that you can ensure your company is compliant and employees are aware of their rights.

What are an employee’s rights if they have experienced discrimination?

If you are an employee and you have experienced discrimination from either a colleague or senior member of staff, you should first raise a formal grievance via the company’s grievance procedure. If the matter is not resolved following this process then it may be that a claim is brought against the company. Ensure you document your position clearly, as
evidence will be key to your claim succeeding at the employment tribunal. If you are successful you may be entitled to compensation and more importantly, disciplinary action will be taken against the perpetrator.

*Karen Holden is the Founder of A City Law Firm.

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