Race Discrimination: What is It, and How Can It Be Prevented?


Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their race. Race includes the colour of your skin, your nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins.

Race discrimination does not need to be deliberate. Someone may be discriminating against you without realising it or meaning to, but it will still count as discrimination.

Race discrimination can be direct or indirect. It may also take the form of harassment or victimisation. We are creating a series of blogs, which covers race discrimination, it’s many forms, and what employees can do.

Part 1: Direct race discrimination

It is direct race discrimination to treat someone less favourably than someone else, because of their race. This can either be direct (so being specifically treated worse than another employee) or a hypothetical comparator.

It is therefore helpful to give an example of someone from a different racial group who, in similar circumstances, has been, or would have been, treated more favourably than you because of your race.

Race is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act. To be treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic means to be treated differently or be worse off than someone else who does not have the same protected characteristic. Unfair treatment is considered unlawful if you are being discriminated against of a protected characteristic, whether this was intentional does not matter, if a person is treated unfairly because of a protected characteristic then this is direct discrimination.

Some ways that an employer may discriminate because of race at work:

  • Dismissing someone
  • Rejecting a job candidate
  • Refusing training for someone
  • Denying someone a promotion
  • Giving an employee less favourable terms and conditions.

Thrive Case Study

Here at Thrive, we are still sadly regularly seeing examples of direct race discrimination. We’ve seen employees dismissed because of their race or ethnic origins; because they “don’t fit” or because they speak a different first language.

Another example that has really stayed with the Thrive team is where the only black employee wasn’t permitted to use the same fridge, mugs, or other kitchen utensils, as the other (white) members of staff and couldn’t access the same free drinks or biscuits. This is (sadly) a perfect example of direct race discrimination; our client was subject to a direct detriment, because of her skin colour.

As an employee; what should you do?

If you think you have suffered race discrimination, there is a number of things you can do;

  • Raise a formal grievance through the organisation’s grievance procedure to try and solve the issues internally.
  • Have a look in the company handbook at the policies on racism and see if your employer or someone who works for your employer has breached any of the company policies.
  • If you believe your complaint was not dealt with properly or you do not agree with the outcome of the grievance you can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal. Here at Thrive, we regularly deal with these kinds of claim and would be more than happy to assist.

Time limits

It is important to note that, in all Tribunal claims including discrimination, the legal time limit is 3 months less one day from the last act of discrimination. Therefore, in order to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal, the discrimination must have occurred in the past 3 months. Through our helpline, we have received a lot of queries about historical racism (eg. over a year ago) which, disappointingly, Employment law does not currently allow claims for.

How can we help you?

At Thrive we are doing all we can to support the black lives matter movement. Even though the media has settled now we must still hear those who need to be heard.

We have launched a FREE helpline for anyone who is concerned about workplace racism.  If this is, you or you know someone who has an enquiry please email: BLMsupport@thrivelaw.co.uk

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