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Race discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of race - this includes the different elements of colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origin.

For example, this would include turning down the best applicant for a job because they are Nigerian and the employer feels they would not 'fit in' with the rest of the staff because they are all English.

View or download the Acas guide: pdf  Race discrimination: key points for the workplace [530kb].

Key points

There are four main types of race discrimination.

Direct discrimination

Breaks down into three different sorts of direct discrimination of treating someone 'less favourably' because of:

  • their actual race (direct discrimination)
  • their perceived race (direct discrimination by perception)
  • the race of someone with whom they associate (direct discrimination by association).

Indirect discrimination

Can occur where there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular race. For example, a requirement for all job applicants to have GCSE Maths and English would discriminate against potential candidates educated in countries which don't have GCSEs, unless the employer accepted equivalent qualifications.

In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is what the law terms 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. Find out more in the Acas guide, pdf  Equality and Discrimination: understand the basics [415kb].


When unwanted conduct related to race has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.


Unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about race discrimination.

Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent race discrimination in:

  • recruitment
  • determining pay, and terms and conditions of employment
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment
  • when an employee is dismissed.

Managing cultural differences at work

Employers and employees should be mindful that employees/colleagues will often come from different backgrounds, and aware that there may be cultural differences as a result, particularly regarding customs and values. They should be sensitive and respectful towards such differences. It is good practice for an employer to provide training for staff to establish a culture of respect in this area, and provide an understanding of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.


  • racial stereotyping - assuming that all people of a particular race have the same characteristics
  • unacceptable terminology - derogatory terms that refer to somebody's race are clearly unacceptable and discriminatory. Also, it is important for everyone to remember that certain words have the potential to cause offence including if they are labelled 'banter' or a 'joke'.

Managing languages at work

The increased movement of people around the world means it can be quite common for organisations to employ staff from many different countries or ethnic backgrounds. As a result, there may be employees for whom English is not their first language. Often, there may be a number of employees who originate from the same country or share a common language which is not English.

However, an employer:

  • can specify a language of operation, usually English, for business reasons.  However, in Wales some jobs require the holder to speak both English and Welsh
  • can insist on recruiting a job candidate who has skills in English necessary for the job, but it must not select based on assumptions about race, nationality, or ethnic or national origins. Again, in Wales some jobs require the holder to have skills in both English and Welsh necessary for the job
  • should be wary of prohibiting or limiting the use of other languages within the workplace unless they can justify this with a genuine business reason.

Employing staff from abroad

Employers must check their employees are entitled to work in the UK, and should also ensure any necessary paperwork is correct and up to date. However, employers should ensure they are consistent in the checks they carry out. For example, just doing them for potential new recruits they assume are not British citizens, or not from the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or Republic of Ireland, may be potentially discriminatory. Workers from European Union countries plus Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are also entitled to work in the UK.

Ethnic and national origins and religion

Employers and employees should also be mindful that  some ethnic and national groups have devout religious beliefs. For example, Sikhs have their own religion and the majority of Poles are Catholic. It is unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief.

Making a claim of race discrimination

If someone feels they have been discriminated against, they may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, it's best to talk to the employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.

Claimants who wish to bring a claim or appeal to a tribunal will have to pay a fee. An initial fee will be paid to issue a claim and a further fee will be payable if the claim proceeds to a hearing. There are two levels of fee which will depend on the type of claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline you can get free advice on specific problems and alternatives to a tribunal claim, such as Mediation or Early Conciliation, where appropriate.

Protected characteristics video

This video introduces and explains the nine protected characteristics.

Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions

We can visit your organisation to help you understand what needs to be done to address a range of issues related to equality and diversity and then work with you to develop practical solutions. For example we can help you develop dignity at work or bullying and harassment policies and procedures. Find out more from Find out more.

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Acas training - Did you know?

Acas run practical training courses to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, Employment law update, Skills for supervisors and Bullying and harassment.

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