Racial Discrimination

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Health Assured team

13 March 2023

Racial discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone based on their race, ethnicity, or nationality. Whether someone’s race is directly known or assumed, any form of discrimination against it is illegal – in the workplace or otherwise.

Employers should be proactive when it comes to spotting signs of racial discrimination at work.

It isn’t always easy to manage complaints of racial discrimination. However, there are steps you can take to prevent it.

Employers have a legal obligation to protect their staff from discrimination. And failure to do so can result in employment tribunals and having to pay compensation.

Read our guide and learn what counts as racial discrimination in the workplace. And how to spot it, prevent it, and support those affected by it.

What is racial discrimination?

Racial discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfavourably, or is at a disadvantage because of their race, ethnicity, or colour.

Under the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and the Equality Act (2010), it is unlawful to treat any employee unfairly because of their:

  • Race.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Colour.
  • Descent.
  • Nationality.
  • Citizenship.

Discrimination legislation

The Equality Act outlines nine protected characteristics that you could be held liable should you breach against:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender.
  • Marriage and civil partnership.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Race.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.

Both employers and employees can be penalised if found guilty of racial discrimination at work.

In some instances, an employer can be held accountable for the actions of their staff – known as ‘vicarious liability’.

Discrimination cases can lead up to tribunal hearings and compensation claims. And depending on the seriousness of the case, you could meet penalties with uncapped amounts.

But this can be avoided or significantly reduced by taking steps to prevent discrimination from happening in your business.

Types of discrimination

The Equality Act outlines the different types of discrimination in the UK. Here are the different types with racial discrimination examples:

Direct racial discrimination

This is when an employee is treated unfairly because of their race or perceived race. It can either derive from a singular incident or a reoccurring one. If the workplace atmosphere becomes hostile, offensive, or degrading for the employee or job candidate, it is classed as racial discrimination.

An example of direct discrimination in the workplace could be, if a manager refers to ethnic minority workers with racial stereotypes or colours, instead of calling them by their name.

Indirect racial discrimination

This is when you disadvantage an entire racial group through your policies and procedures. Whether or not the bias behaviour is unconscious, the outcome is still apparent.

There are many forms of indirect racial discrimination in the workplace; examples like banning headscarves, or only recruiting candidates with English as their first language are a few.

Racial harassment and victimisation

Racial harassment is an action (or series of actions) that is intended to intimidate or harm someone based on their race or ethnic group. It can range from verbal abuse to physical assault.

If the employee is being harassed after making a complaint about racial discrimination, this is classed as victimisation. They could further their issue to an employment tribunal if they feel like you mishandled their complaint.

How to spot signs of racial discrimination

Employees who face racial discrimination at work might not be confident in reporting it. They might fear consequences to their work status. Or that their case might not be taken seriously. If the problem is minor or could be difficult to prove, they could decide to live with the abuse.

It’s important for employers to spot signs of racial discrimination and ensure a zero-tolerance for misbehaviour, such as;

  • Using racist or derogatory language.
  • Failing to promote, reward, or hire diverse candidates.
  • Consistently blaming employees of certain races and ethnicities without grounds.

How to minimise racial discrimination in the workplace

It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a comfortable working environment. You should make it clear that all types of discrimination are prohibited, and consequences will follow for wrongdoers.

Take steps to encourage a racially diverse workforce when hiring, and keep your company aware of equality by:

  • Onboarding applicants from all races, and ethnicities.
  • Providing training on cultural awareness.
  • Offering information and materials in applicable languages other than English.

There might be situations where a company needs to determine its own rules that could appear to discriminate against certain racial groups – without it being illegal under UK law.

For example, banning necklaces (including religious ones) in certain work environments, as a health and safety precaution. Or only recruiting a South Asian actor to play a character of the same ethnicity. These circumstances of racial discrimination are seen as acceptable, provided you show reasonability.

Solutions to racial discrimination in the workplace

Racial discrimination can come from people at any level in the business. You should put steps in place to deal with this before it can occur.

Create a clear and formal racial discrimination policy, with breach terms and disciplinary processes outlined. Everyone in your company should understand how discrimination complaints will be managed. From the initial investigation procedure, right through to the final decision.

Some serious situations might need external assistance for finding a resolution. The case might need police involvement or to be resolved at an employment tribunal.

You should provide training for line managers. If they can spot and deal with racial discrimination directly, cases in the workplace will be better managed.

Your management staff should be competent in providing support and advice to affected employees. Showing support can range from having an informal conversation to following a grievance procedure.

Racial pay discrimination is still an ongoing socio-economic problem. Larger companies should take it on themselves to publicly release reports on gender and racial wage gaps. This can help highlight and rectify disparities more efficiently. Which can grow and prosper a business culture which champions diversity and equality.

Let Health Assured help you prevent racial harassment in the workplace

All employers should aim to safeguard their workers from all forms of harm – including bullying, harassment, and all forms of discrimination.

Your biggest responsibility for your staff is to provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable working environment. Without it, you may face an increase in complaints, tribunal hearings, and financial penalties.

Health Assured offers expert advice on dealing with discrimination issues in the workplace. Our confidential whistleblowing support allows your employees to confidently raise claims and feel support throughout their case.

Our Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0352 for help on promoting health and wellbeing at work.

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