Racism in the Workplace

Caragh Bailey
4 min read
Racism in the workplace: Advice from employment law friend

Racism in the workplace is wrong, but sadly, still happens all too often. Racial discrimination and religious discrimination are unlawful under the equality act, which covers skin colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion, belief and philosophy. To learn more about what behaviours constitute the different types of discrimination, read our main page on discrimination. If you'd like to jump ahead, read our article Discrimination at work: What should you do?

Racism at work

You are protected from racism in the workplace based on:
  • Skin colour (For example, you are black)
  • Nationality (For example, you are from a different country to your employer)
  • Ethnic origin (For example, you are Romani/Roma)
  • National origin (For example, you may have a British passport, but your family is from another country)

For example:
  • Your employer doesn’t hire or promote you. They say it’s because ‘you wouldn’t fit in’ or ‘the customers would object’.
  • Your colleagues with lighter skin are more often selected to work with high importance clients, which progresses their careers.
  • You have watched new colleagues join you in an entry level position and quickly pass you onto higher responsibility roles. Your boss has made generalised comments about people with of your ethnicity being less 'reliable', or 'trustworthy'.
  • Someone at work has used a racial slur in conversation with you, or behind your back.

Racial Abuse at Work

Harassment is behaviour that offends you, makes you feel uncomfortable, distressed or intimidated including:
  • Abusive comments
  • Derogatory jokes
  • Insulting gestures
  • Mocking facial expressions
  • Offensive comments on social media

Any form of racial discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable, if someone is harassing you due to your protected characteristic, read our article Discrimination at work: What should you do? to see how you can put a stop to it.

Further reading:

Religious discrimination in the workplace
You are protected from discrimination in the workplace if you have the following religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Belonging to an organised religion (such as Islam)
  • Having a religious belief, following religious practices (such as having to pray at specific times, or having sacred tattoos, such as Moko (Maori))
  • Having no religion (atheism)
  • Your philosophical beliefs (such as ethical veganism or pacifism)

For example:
  • You are held to a higher account than your colleagues, when you are pulled up on minor mistakes you are told you should do better because you are religious, or of a certain religion. These reprimands feel mocking.
  • Your employer will not allow you to take your rest breaks at times that your religion requires you to pray.
  • You are an atheist. You notice that several of the senior roles are filled by members of the Christian faith. You are passed up for promotion in favour of a less experienced colleague who is also Christian.
  • Part of your employee benefits are subsidised meals. Your employer refuses to make a reasonable adjustment to the kitchen in order to provide a meal option which fits your beliefs.

Further reading:

Frequently Asked Questions
You don't have to be the victim of racism in the workplace to report it. You can raise a grievance with your employer if you have witnessed unacceptable behaviour at work, even if it had nothing to do with you. It may even help the person experiencing discrimination for it to be reported by a third party witness, but you should check with them first, in case they feel that raising a grievance could make things worse.
Yes, at the end of 2019 the UK courts decided that ethical veganism was protected by the equality act. Vegetarianism is not.
  • It must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
  • It need not be shared by others.
  • It must be more than just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

Have you been victim to racism in the workplace?
Discrimination at work is unacceptable, you don't have to endure unfavourable treatment. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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Please be advised that we are a UK company and our advice applies to employment law in England and Wales, only.
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