Race discrimination claims in the workplace were up 4% in the past year according to official figures from the Ministry of Justice and employment tribunals. Employment Associate, Tina Maxey, discusses rights employees have against racial discrimination and how you can create and maintain a non-discriminate workplace that all employees can feel comfortable and welcome in?

What rights do employees have against racial discrimination in the workplace?  

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, which includes colour, nationality, ethnic origins and national origins in recruitment or employment.    Your employer should take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racial discrimination.

What protections are there from racial harassment in the workplace?  

The Equality Act 2010 prevents direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourable than another person because of their race, for example your employer will not promote you because of your race.  Indirect discrimination occurs where an employer has a provision, criteria or practice (PCP) which puts people of a particular racial group at a disadvantage and the PCP cannot be objectively justified, for example a hairdresser has a policy that all its stylists do not cover their own hair.  This puts Muslim women or Sikh men at a disadvantage.  Protection also extends to victimisation; employees have the right not to be treated badly as a result of complaining about discrimination that has taken place, either against them or where they have witnessed this.

What can an employee do if they feel they have been discriminated against because of their race? 

There are some circumstances when explaining to the perpetrator  how their behaviour is making you feel is enough to put a stop to it.  If this approach is not successful, or is not appropriate, or you do not feel comfortable speaking to the person concerned, you could speak to your employer.  This could be by raising the matter informally which might resolve any issues.  If it does not resolve the issue, or the issue is too serious to raise informally, a formal complaint under your employer’s relevant procedures can be made.  If this does not resolve the issue an employee can take legal action.  Both the employer and its employees can be held responsible for acts of discrimination.  Tribunal time limits for discrimination are short – just three months.  The point at which the time limit runs from is not straight-forward and the law is complex, so you might want to seek advice at an early stage.  If you are a member of a Trade Union, you might want to speak to your Union representative.  Alternatively, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or ACAS might be able to provide some advice, or you can speak to a solicitor.

What can someone do if they feel they have been discriminated against during the recruitment process because of their race? 

If you believe you have not been offered the job due to discrimination, consider the wording of the job advert and the questions you were asked at interview.  You should ask for feedback and why you were not successful in being offered the role.  If you are not satisfied with the response seek advice from ACAS or legal advice from a solicitor.

What top tips would you give to employers to successfully create and maintain a non-discriminate workplace that all employees can feel comfortable and welcome in? 

Whilst not a legal requirement, a good starting place is for an employer to have clear policies in place to prevent unwanted conduct, for example an Equal Opportunities Policy and Anti-harassment and Bullying Policy.   This, in itself. is not enough, an employer should make all staff aware of the policies and provide regular training to help staff understand their rights and responsibilities.  If a complaint of discrimination is made, employers should investigate this immediately and, where appropriate, take disciplinary action. An employer should also get legal advice when needed; it is sensible to get legal advice as early as possible as any problems or difficulties with the way in which any complaint has been handled may not be able to be remedied, leaving an employer open to liability.

How can Ellisons Help? 

At Ellisons our specialist Employment Law Solicitors are able to offer you prompt and practical advice to help you resolve the issues as quickly as possible and on the right terms. Contact the Ellisons’ specialist Employment Law Solicitors today on 01473 556900 or email us at [email protected].