Race discrimination at work

How and when race discrimination can happen

Race discrimination – including racial harassment – can happen in any aspect of work.

How it can happen

Race discrimination can happen in different ways. For example it might:

  • be a regular pattern of racist behaviour or a one-off incident
  • happen in the workplace, at work social events or when people are working remotely
  • happen face to face, on social media, in emails or phone calls
  • be spoken or written words, imagery, graffiti, gestures, jokes, pranks or unwanted physical behaviour
  • not always be obvious or noticed by others
  • not always be someone's intention to discriminate or cause offence

Race discrimination can often happen when decisions are made, for example around:

  • recruitment
  • redundancy and dismissals
  • sickness and absence
  • terms and conditions of employment, including pay and promotion
  • ways of working, for example flexible working or hybrid working

Who someone can experience it from

Someone could experience race discrimination from anyone they come into contact with, including:

  • someone they work with
  • a manager, supervisor or someone else in a position of authority
  • someone who is less senior than them, for example a manager could be bullied or harassed by staff – this can be called 'upward bullying' or 'subordinate bullying'

Someone could also experience race discrimination from a customer, client or member of the public. An employer should take steps to prevent this, otherwise they could be liable under the law.

Discrimination is often directed at an individual, but it's not always the case. Sometimes there can be a culture of racism in a workplace that's not specifically aimed at one person – for example making racist comments.

When race discrimination may not be obvious

Sometimes race discrimination is very obvious, for example making openly racist comments towards someone.

Other things are not always obvious and may not be noticed by other people. This can include:

  • unconscious bias – when someone's thoughts or decisions are influenced by beliefs or assumptions that may not be right or reasonable
  • racial stereotyping – having a fixed view about what someone's like based on their race, culture or appearance
  • microaggressions – small comments, questions or behaviours that are offensive or inappropriate, sometimes without the person who's doing it realising

This type of language or behaviour may not always be intended. But it can lead to someone feeling offended, unsafe or feeling like they do not belong. It can be very distressing.

Examples of racial stereotyping and microaggressions

Examples could include:

  • telling someone how good their English is – this suggests thinking the person would not have good English based on how they look or where they're from
  • telling someone their name is too hard to say – this implies it's not worth taking the time to learn their name and suggests they do not fit in
  • asking "where are you really from?" when someone says they're British – this suggests thinking they're not really British and do not belong here
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