There are many employment laws which prevent employers from unlawfully dismissing you or generally treating you badly.
The Race Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against anybody because of their race.
What is race discrimination?
Protecting people from discrimination both in and outside the workplace, the Race Relations Act is in place to prevent anyone from being treated less favourably due to their race, colour, nationality, religion or origin.
Race discrimination covers everything from outright hostility to accidental discrimination and is divided into four categories:
- Direct discrimination (where only those of a specific race are considered for a role)
- Indirect discrimination (where universal policies disadvantage a particular group, eg. a specific dress code)
- Harassment (a hostile atmosphere centred around race, eg. racist jokes in the workplace)
- Victimisation (maltreatment of a worker who has raised an issue concerning race discrimination)
Whichever of the four categories certain behaviour falls into, the basis of the Race Relations Act remains the same: that it is unlawful for any racial discrimination to occur.
It works across all aspects of employment, too, from recruitment and terms and conditions right through pay, benefits, employment status, training, promotion and transfer opportunities, to redundancy or dismissal.
There are, though, some exceptions, and these are categorised as ‘occupational requirements’. For example, a specific ethnicity may be required for a specific role in a film – recruiting for this role would fall under an ‘occupational requirement’, so would not be considered race discrimination.
Positive discrimination / Positive action
Two other areas worth knowing about are positive discrimination and positive action.
Positive discrimination is unlawful, as although it promotes the employment or advancement of certain (usually underrepresented) groups, its basis is still in discrimination – essentially giving someone favourable treatment in the workplace because of their difference.
Positive action differs slightly from positive discrimination as it allows limited forms of opportunity for certain, proportionally underrepresented groups (e.g.: computer training for older workers) and it can be legal if the employer can prove the group they are showing ‘positive action’ toward are at a disadvantage in the workplace.
Companies can also engage in positive action if they have evidence to prove a certain group is disproportionally underrepresented in a certain activity.
What do I do if I feel I am discriminated against in my current job?
Your company should have a grievance procedure, but the first thing you should do is speak to your immediate boss, or, if it is your immediate boss who is being discriminatory, their line boss or the HR department.
You can also get advice from your trade union representative or the citizen’s advice bureau. If you don’t feel the matter is being addressed, you might need to make a complaint via your employer’s grievance procedure, or, if necessary, through an Employment Tribunal.
I’m in the ethnic majority, can I still raise a race discrimination concern?
Of course. Race discrimination covers any perceived differences, even if you are in the majority. Issues here might fall under ‘positive discrimination’, which, as explained above, is deemed unlawful.
What if customers or clients prefer to work with certain races?
This is exactly the same as race discrimination from within the organisation. It’s not acceptable for clients to dictate who they work with on the basis of race, and therefore if you are asked to either accept or avoid a certain role because of this, you’re protected by the Race Discrimination Act.
Can I be asked about my race in a job application?
You may be asked about your race when applying for a job, and it is perfectly legal for the employer to do so. Employers usually ask for this information so they can make sure they are receiving a proportional number of applications from across the spectrum, but what they are not allowed to do is to use it as a contributing factor in their choice of who they employ.