Racial discrimination in the workplace

Breaking barriers: Addressing race discrimination at work

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Wednesday, Jun 19, 2024

In today's diverse world, it's disheartening to acknowledge that racial discrimination still persists in various aspects of life, including the workplace.

So, it’s important for today's employers to promote equality and prevent racial discrimination, not only because it's legally required but also because it's morally right to do so.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to take proactive measures to address issues like direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, and racial harassment to make sure your workplace is fair and inclusive.

Let's shed some light on the issue and explore practical insights to better understand the key aspects related to race discrimination.

Understanding racial discrimination

Race is one of the nine "protected characteristics" covered by the Equality Act 2010. The act prohibits discrimination based on race.

Racial discrimination can happen in any aspect of work, whether it be decisions made in the workplace or how employees interact with one another. It could also either be a recurring pattern of racist behaviour or a one-time occurrence.

When it comes to racial discrimination in the workplace, it’s important to know that it can occur not just in your physical workspace but at work-related social events, or even when employees are working remotely.

The definition of racial discrimination

Racial discrimination, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, is treating an individual unfairly or less favourably due to their racial group, which includes skin colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

Race discrimination can take different forms, such as direct or indirect discrimination, harassment, or victimisation.

So, you will need to grasp the distinctions of this definition and understand the different types of racial discrimination to effectively combat race discrimination within your workplace.

An employee being treated differently at work due to their race

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs when an individual is treated less favourably due to their race, ethnic group, or national origin.

To ensure your workplace upholds the principles of fairness and equality for all, you should remain vigilant to identify and rectify these instances.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect race discrimination involves policies or practices that, while seemingly neutral, disproportionately disadvantage a very particular race or racial group.

So, it’s best to carefully examine your workplace practices to identify and rectify any unintended discriminatory impacts, so you can foster a truly inclusive workplace.

What is racial harassment?

Racial harassment refers to unwanted behaviour related to someone's race, such as the use of racist language. For the behaviour to be considered harassment, it must violate a person's dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.

It's important to note that racial harassment can be considered a crime.

For example, if an employee has been subjected to a race-related hate incident, such as physical or verbal abuse, threats of physical violence or online abuse, while this is still harassment it’s also a crime.

A person getting bullied at work

What is racial victimisation?

Victimisation is when someone is treated unfairly because they are involved in a discrimination or harassment complaint, even if they did not file the complaint themselves.

There are various forms of victimisation, including exclusion or not being allowed to participate in workplace activities.

Discrimination law and the Equality Act 2010

As an employer in the UK, you have a legal duty to prevent racial discrimination in your workplace. This includes taking proactive steps to promote equality, eliminating discriminatory working practices, and providing protection to employees from racial harassment.

The main law that covers race discrimination is the Equality Act 2010. It provides a robust framework for promoting fairness and equality among employees and outlines the responsibilities of employers to create an environment free from racial discrimination.

The Act contains specific provisions that apply to different aspects of racial discrimination in the workplace. So, understanding the legal framework and obligations is crucial for you to make sure you’re acting in line with the law and creating a fair working environment.

Unlawful discrimination

Under the Equality Act 2010, any form of racial discrimination, whether direct or indirect, is deemed unlawful.

The law offers protection against discrimination in the workplace to the following individuals:

  • Employees
  • Workers
  • Job applicants
  • Former employees
  • Contractors and self-employed individuals if employed to carry out the work personally

You will need to familiarise yourself with the Act's provisions, emphasising a commitment to preventing racial discrimination in all its forms.

A person being discriminated against

Grievance procedure

Implementing a clear and accessible grievance procedure is essential to address and resolve racial discrimination issues effectively, not to mention, that it falls under your legal duty to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

You should encourage employees to report any discriminatory behaviour and make sure that complaints are taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, and appropriate corrective actions are taken.

Creating a safe and supportive environment for reporting discrimination will empower your employees to come forward and seek resolution.

Discrimination claims

If an employee feels that they are being discriminated against based on their race, either by the business or any individual employee, your first course of action should be to try and address the issue internally.

Your formal grievance and disciplinary procedures should be utilised to investigate, document, and hopefully resolve the matter.

However, if the issue remains unresolved, your employee has the right to take their claim to an employment tribunal.

How to prevent racial harassment and race discrimination

To combat and prevent racial discrimination effectively, employers must actively promote equality and diversity within their workplace. This can include:

Addressing unwanted conduct

Addressing unwanted conduct promptly is crucial in preventing the escalation of racial harassment issues.

Promoting a workplace environment where offensive language or behaviour related to race is not tolerated contributes significantly to preventing racial discrimination.

You should establish clear reporting mechanisms and provide support for those who experience or witness racial harassment. Foster a culture where such behaviour is not tolerated, where employees feel comfortable reporting offensive incidents, and perpetrators are held accountable.

A zero-tolerance approach

A zero-tolerance approach towards racial harassment is fundamental to creating a workplace culture that prioritises respect and inclusion.

If you take this approach, you must communicate this stance clearly, for example within your employee handbooks or contracts, ensuring that instances of racial harassment are met with swift and decisive action.

Raising awareness and training

You should keep in mind that education and awareness play a crucial role in combating racial discrimination.

As an employer, you should organise regular training sessions for your employees, focusing on the significance of diversity, recognising unconscious biases, and fostering a respectful workplace.

By raising awareness and promoting understanding, you can create a more inclusive work environment for everyone.

A group of people leaning about diversity and racial discrimination at work

Establishing a racially diverse workforce

If you want to promote a racially diverse workforce, it's important to implement inclusive recruitment practices which can encourage members of under represented racial groups to join your business. You can collaborate with recruitment partners, engage in outreach initiatives, and create a welcoming environment for diverse talent.

Consider implementing positive action strategies to address underrepresented racial groups and promote diversity within certain racial or ethnic groups.

You should foster a culture of respect and acceptance and provide equal opportunities for career development and advancement for employees of all racial backgrounds.

How BrightHR can help create a workplace without discrimination

Imagine a workplace where every individual, regardless of their race or ethnicity, feels valued and respected. A place where diversity is celebrated, and a culture of inclusion is encouraged.

This kind of workplace is not only legally compliant but also contributes to a harmonious and thriving environment that reflects the principles of fairness, equality, and human rights.

Creating such a workplace requires a varied approach that involves understanding discrimination laws, promoting diversity, and committing to eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.

With the right business support from BrightHR, you’re one step closer to achieving this workplace.

BrightHR provides business owners like you with:

Unlimited 24/7 employment law advice

Gain peace of mind with access to a team of legal experts available round the clock to provide guidance on discrimination issues and any employment law or HR questions you may have.

Our software also offers a free AI-powered question-and-answer service, supported by a team of 50 experienced advisors, for quick and accurate solutions to your queries. Stay compliant with confidence knowing that expert help is always just a click away.

A complete HR document library

With access to hundreds of professionally crafted HR documents, including employment contracts, how-to guides, policies, and more, you can ensure that your working practices are fully compliant with discrimination laws.

Don't run the risk of facing legal issues or penalties for non-compliance. Take advantage of our comprehensive resources to safeguard your business and protect your employees from any type of discrimination.

Effortless employee training

Empower your workforce and fulfil all your legal training obligations with our comprehensive Learning Management System. Our platform integrates RoSPA and CDP-accredited e-learning courses, covering everything from mandatory training to awareness-raising topics.

Equip your team with vital knowledge on diversity and inclusion and other relevant subjects, all in one place.

To discover more from BrightHR, book your FREE demo today.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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