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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4 thoughts on “What to do if you think that you’re being discriminated against in the workplace

  1. Avatar
    Brenda Mitchell on Reply

    I was delighted to have read your information regarding discrimination, which has been very informative. I have very strong evidence that I am being discriminated against in the work place as a flexible and locum employee for the nhsp an internal agency within the NHS Ahead of putting my case forward I would like to state that all emotions have been taken out of my complaint. In due course I will be submitting my case.

  2. Avatar
    Richard Acland on Reply

    How to commit AGE DISCRIMINATION without, technically, breaking the law? Simples – demand GCSEs, even if the person has the relevant ‘O’ level equivalents and an advanced university degree!

  3. Avatar
    Keith Stewart on Reply

    Hi,
    this post is very useful and I would add more.

    1-Emotions are always there where issues such as discrimination are concerned. Managers, employers,lawyers and people in general will try and use the emotion against you. Women and black men are aggressive. Women are over sensitive. The emotional damage to you of discrimination should be mentioned. And evidenced. I would keep a diary – dates, who was there, what was said – facts. and on separate lines write about the feelings and emotions. Tearful may also be linked to scared-for my safety or job. Writing the emotions separately shows you have them but have them under control and can distinguish facts from emotions. State that to people when they try and use emotional blackmail against you and they stumble. Ask them to explain why you can’t have feelings?

    2 – Poor management is not an excuse for discrimination. And not an alternative excuse for it. It let’s managers and companies off the hook. If you are a poor manager why are you being allowed to manage? Why haven’t you been supported and trained? At the core or part of your poor management can still be discriminatory behaviour. Poor management is a reason not an excuse for discrimination. Your poor management is also has detrimental affects on others.

    3 – Collect allies – reliable colleagues. your local councillor, m.p. – get them onside either for now or future use. Also local and national networks and agencies like the C.R.E. Tell them what you need, clarify what and how far they can go. If it is a public body you are dealing with check organisations such as the Local Government Ombudsman – see what they offer. I used them once to complete the process of beating wandsworth council for discriminatory practice. The Ombudsman’s word is final.

    4 – Have clear and realistic goals about what you want to happen.
    Will you just let it go and get on with your job.
    Will you raise it verbally – always important – say to the person/people that you are not happy with their behaviour. Say it multiple times and with witnesses. Diary that you did it and their response. Lawyers, tribunals etc will ask – did you speak up/complain/challenge?
    Do you want an apology?
    A change in behaviour or company procedure – if so. What change.
    When your goals are clear you can’t be pushed aside. If you are clear about what you want to happen people find it harder to portray you as unreasonable or emotional.

    5 – Be ready for the pain and stress. Have ways to relax and “have a life”. It helps to destress and keep you and the situation in perspective. This discrimination is not you- and it is not who YOU are. A victim has added stress that investigators, managers etc do not always understand. To the manager it is a meeting to get more details. For you it is reliving the pain of what happened. You can’t move on if you have to keep reliving that moment. Balance your life and the complaint.

    And imagine the difference you could make to the next person and yourself because you stood up. All of us have benefited in life because someone, somewhere at some time fought back.
    Keith

  4. Avatar
    sharon on Reply

    This is very important topic, very informative , i too suffered discrimination at work and still am, the NHS is one of the hidden sources for it to manifest. continue speaking out its the only way acknowledgement will take place. because of discomfort.,

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