Discrimination at work

Worried you're being discriminated against at work because of your sex, race, religion, sexuality, age or disability? It's illegal, you know. Here's how to tackle your employers if you feel you're not being treated fairly.

Girl being shouted at by her boss

He should have shown more discrimination when he picked that tie.

Am I being discriminated against at work?

At work, you should have the same rights as everybody else to:

  • apply to a job, and to get it if you’re the best applicant
  • be paid the same as others doing a similar role
  • get the same training opportunities
  • be considered for promotion
  • not be bulled or harassed, by your boss or other employees
  • be disciplined to the same degree as any one else would be, but also to be able to complain if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly

If you’ve not been able to access these rights, and you believe it’s because of your race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, age, or your disability, then you’re being discriminated against.

As well as being unfair and prejudice, this sort of behaviour is also illegal.

Sometimes discrimination is obvious, like if a woman is paid less than a man. In others it’s more subtle, like having a job description that demands only UK qualifications.

If you’re still not sure about whether something is discrimination, you can check the Advice Now website.

What can I do if I feel discriminated against?

Talk to someone at work
If you feel you can, talk to the perpetrator. If you feel this is impossible, or it doesn’t change anything, then talk to someone higher up, or, if you’re a member, contact a trade union.

Make sure you keep a written record of examples of discrimination, as these will help back up your claims.

Make a formal complaint
If sorting it out informally hasn’t worked you can make a formal complaint. All workplaces should have a grievance procedure; have a look at this to work out who to give your complaint to, and what will happen.

If you’re having trouble writing a formal complaint, get someone from your trade union or someone from the Citizens Advice Bureau to help you.

Go to an employment tribunal
You can also take your case to an employment tribunal. This is basically the same as a court, so you should get advice first. Talk to someone from Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) who can explain all of your options.

Will I get in trouble for making a complaint?

There’s a risk you’ll get labelled a troublemaker and things could get uncomfortable, but the law actually protects you from this. It’s illegal to mistreat or victimise someone because they’ve made a complaint. If this happens, don’t be afraid to complain about it – on top of your initial issue.

Equal pay and sex discrimination

If there’s someone else doing the same or similar work as you of the opposite sex, find out whether they’re being paid more. If they are, you’ll have a case to complain.

Jobs should be open to people of both sexes. But there are a few cases where employers can choose employees of a particular sex. It’s OK, for example, to only employ women to do bra-fittings, obviously.

Racial discrimination

It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of your race, colour, nationality, the country you’re from, or ethnic origin. Nor can they treat you differently because of the race of one of your friends, a boyfriend, girlfriend or anyone else.

Age discrimination

An employer cannot treat you differently because you’re young, unless they have good reason. For example, if you’re under 18 legally you can’t work certain hours or in certain jobs. The minimum wage also changes depending on your age, so someone aged 17 can be paid less than someone aged 25.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Legally, everyone must be treated the same whether they are bisexual, heterosexual, gay or lesbian. Sexuality-related bullying, i.e. calling someone a ‘fag’ or any other anti-gay name, is illegal even if they aren’t actually gay.

You cannot refuse to work with someone because of their sexuality, even if it’s against your religious beliefs. However, religious organisations may be allowed to refuse to employ someone because of their sexuality.

Discrimination against religion or belief

This includes discrimination against established religions, and also deeply held beliefs. So you also can’t be discriminated against because you’re an atheist – even though you wouldn’t normally call that a religion.

You don’t have to be given time off for religious holidays, and your employer doesn’t have to give you specific facilities – such as a chapel or prayer room. Although, Acas encourage them to if they can. When it comes to clothing, it cannot affect your ability to do your job, but you should be allowed to wear religious clothing otherwise.

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015