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Race discrimination

Key points

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees because of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

There are four types of race discrimination.

  • Direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived race, or because of the race of someone with whom they associate. An example of this could be refusing to employ someone solely because they are a particular race
  • Indirect discrimination: can occur where there is a policy, practice or procedure which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular race. An example could be a requirement for all job applicants to have GCSE Maths and English: people educated in countries which don't have GCSEs would be discriminated against if equivalent qualifications were not accepted.
  • Harassment: 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
  • Victimisation: unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about racial discrimination.

In very limited circumstances, there are some jobs which can require that the job-holder is of a particular racial group. This is known as an 'occupational requirement'. One example is where the job-holder provides personal welfare services to a limited number of people and those services can most effectively be provided by a person of a particular racial group because of cultural needs and sensitivities.

It is unlawful to discriminate against a job-seeker, worker or trainee on grounds of race, colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origins. Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:

  • recruitment and selection
  • determining pay
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment.

Positive action is where an employer can provide support, training or encourage people from a particular racial group.

An employer must ensure any positive action taken is a proportionate way of tackling the under representation of a particular racial group, without discriminating against people outside of that group.

Positive action is only allowed where a particular racial group:

  • suffers a disadvantage
  • is disproportionately under represented
  • has needs that are different from the needs of other racial groups in the workforce.

Positive action is not the same as positive discrimination which can be regarded as preferential treatment of member of a minority group. This is illegal in Great Britain.

If you feel you've been discriminated against, you'll be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to your 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 to the tribunal or appeal 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 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 (0300 123 1100) you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation or Acas Dispute Resolution, where appropriate.

Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions

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Acas Helpline

Call our Helpline on 0300 123 1100 for free support and advice or to check your workplace policies and practices. The Acas Helpline provides free and impartial advice for employers, employees and representatives on a range of employment relations, employment rights, HR and management issues.

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