What to do if you think that you’re being discriminated against in the workplace

Each year, thousands of people experience discrimination in the workplace – despite being against the law. Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone in the workplace, based on their age, race, gender, gender reassignment, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

If you think that you might have been discriminated against because of one of these protected characteristics, then it’s important to know what steps you can take to protect your rights, and to hold an employer accountable.

The reality is that reporting discrimination isn’t always easy – especially when there are emotions involved, and/or when you’re worried about proving your claim. However, the only way that things are likely to change for the better, is if you speak up and take action. If you think you may have been discriminated against in the workplace, then the following five steps could help.

1. Check your problem is discrimination under the law

The first step in confirming whether you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, is to check whether someone has treated you unfairly because of any of the nine characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010. These are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity
  • race (including colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin)
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

For more guidance on types of discrimination and protected characteristics, you can visit the Citizens Advice website.

Once you’ve checked that your problem is discrimination under the law, the next step is to gather any relevant information about the incident that occurred…

2. Document what happened

It’s understandable that you might be feeling upset, frustrated or angered if you are treated unfairly at work. However, before you take the appropriate action to deal with discrimination, it’s helpful to remove all emotion from the situation and focus only on what actually happened. Your report cannot be based on a feeling or an assumption – it must be based on concrete facts.

Try to note down exactly what was said or done, during the discriminatory act or series of occurrences – along with the date, time and location. Also write down the name of the person or people who you believe have discriminated against you and their job title(s) – plus details of anyone who might have witnessed the incident.

If you’d like more information and advice about how to gather evidence about discrimination at work, then take a look at this guide from Citizens Advice.

3. Consider alternative ways of resolving the situation

Not all discrimination in the workplace is deliberate or conscious, and can sometimes be the result of poor management or communication. Every situation is unique, but it’s often best to try resolving the situation informally with your manager first. Explain what happened, how you feel about it, and ask them if you can work towards a solution together.

You might find it helpful to read Acas’ guidance on How to raise a problem at work, for guidance on how to raise an issue informally with your employer first.

4. Report the discrimination

If for any reason the situation cannot be resolved informally, then you can make a formal complaint to your employer, which is known as ‘raising a grievance’. Employers will often have their own grievance procedure, but if it doesn’t, then be sure to make sure that the steps set out in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s (Acas) formal grievance guide, and in the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, are being followed.

5. Escalate things further if the issue still isn’t resolved

If raising a grievance still doesn’t solve the issue (perhaps your employer doesn’t respond or they retaliate against you), then you could potentially make a claim to an employment tribunal, so that a court can hear from both you and your employer, and decide how best to settle the matter.

Sources of help and advice

  • Acas – an independent public body that works with millions of employers and employees across the UK everyday to improve workplace relationships. They receive funding from the government. If you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace then they will be able to talk you through your options. The Acas helpline (0300 123 1100) is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.
  • The Equality Advisory and Support Service – they assist people with issues related to equality and human rights across England, Scotland and Wales. You can find out how to contact them by email, live chat or phone, here.
  • Citizens Advice have lots of helpful information about how to check whether you’re being discriminated against in the workplace, and how to gather evidence and decide what to do about it. You can find this information here.
  • If you’re a member of a trade union, then it’s also worth getting in touch and seeing whether they can help.

A final note...

It’s important to keep in mind that discrimination in all it’s forms is wrong, and you should never be made to feel guilty about standing up for yourself. The process of doing so isn’t always easy – it can take strength and courage – but it’s an important step in creating positive change.

Did you find this page useful? Is there any other information on discrimination that you would like to see here? Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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