Discrimination at Work

Discrimination at work has been a real problem for some people in the UK, making it difficult for certain groups to get jobs or making their working life miserable.

Everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly when it comes to employment. Sadly that’s still not always the case in modern Britain.

Thankfully new laws have been introduced in recent times. These regulations aim to help increase diversity and equality, and protect disadvantaged groups from discrimination.

Under the rules in the UK everyone should have Equal Access to Employment. Once in work there should be a level playing field for pay, training and development. Individuals should not face harassment, bullying at work or unfair treatment because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender or age.

What is Discrimination?

Despite decades of race relations and new employment law, discrimination can still be a fact of life for many at work.

People can be treated differently and discriminated against for many different reasons – it may because of the colour of their skin or their religion, or simply because they are a woman.

However, the tighter equality legislation that has been brought in during the last few years makes it far more difficult for employers to discriminate against staff and get away with it.

Under employment legislation organisations cannot discriminate against people on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability. And from October 2006 it is also unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their age, known as Age Discrimination.

Most of these laws apply to a range of different situations from recruitment and selection, to training and promotion. Employers can face Employment Tribunals and unlimited compensation claims if found guilty of discrimination.

Figures show that unemployment is twice as high among people from ethnic minorities. Women who are Pregnant at work still also suffer high levels of discrimination.

As as legal protection the government also has an organisation to help promote diversity and fight discrimination. It is called The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) and was launched in October 2007.

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Types of Discrimination

Although most people think of race when talking about discrimination, the law actually protects a wide range of people against unfair treatment at work.

Under UK discrimination laws the following areas are considered to be protected:


Discriminating against someone on the basis of their race was first outlawed in the 1970s and since then the rules have been continually tightened up. There are four types of discrimination in this area (direct, indirect, victimisation and harassment) and employees should never be treated differently because of their ethnicity.


The laws around religion and belief only came into force in 2003 but now protect people from being discriminated against.


These laws protect people from being discriminated on the grounds of sex or marital status. Men and women must have equal access to employment, training and promotion.

Sexual Orientation

New rules to prevent employers discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation were brought in during 2003. The law protects heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals. Transsexual men and women are also included if they suffer discrimination.


People with a disability must not be discriminated against or victimised as part of their employment. After the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) provided a number of new safeguards. As well as the usual anti-discrimination measures the DDA also requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace. This is to accommodate disabled workers or applicants.


These laws will cover everybody that is judged on age, rather than ability. It will include discrimination against any age – young or old. This has huge implications for the workplace because around 59% of people feel they have been disadvantaged because of their age.

How to Deal with Discrimination at Work

Discrimination is a very serious matter which could end up in an employment tribunal or court. If you feel you have been discriminated against you must try and keep a record of any incidents.

You can then make a complaint, contact your trade union, seek legal advice or visit the local Citizens Advice Bureau.

There are also several statutory bodies designed to deal with specific problems (listed below) as well as the government’s mediation and conciliation body ACAS, who can offer advice and practical help.

Where to go for Help

  • The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR): www.cehr.org.uk
  • The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) www.eoc.org.uk
  • Commission for Racial Equality (REC) www.cre.gov.uk
  • Disability Rights Commission (DRC) www.drc-gb.org
  • Employers Forum on Age www.efa.org.uk
  • ACAS www.acas.org.uk
  • Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk

25 thoughts on “Discrimination at Work

  1. None says:

    Hi…..Recently I have been sent home early due not willing t clean up fire soot /dust from a small fire in the shop. Being asthmatic of which my managers are fully aware of, the owner became angry when I said no and was forcing me to go and clean fire soot , wear a mask, were I am exempt to wear one for over three weeks now. I calmly and politely said my side of the reasons and was not wanting to do any work, I found other jobs else where to get on with safely, but the owner still told me to go home early. I am now loosing wage for the 2nd part f the day and told they will now look at work I am able to do….had no problems until now saying no to cleaning up in a very dusty / fire soot environment ……legally where do I stand and has my boss broke any employment laws?

  2. Sebastian Coates says:

    I take antidepressants and advised my employer as such. I have now been refused a supervisor role because I am on antidepressants (that is what the director actually said to me) and also refused the position because I adhere to a court order and collect my children from school at 3pm every Tuesday and alt Fridays. Is that a case for discrimination?

  3. Saby says:

    Hi! I have some problems at work since I joined the company. I’m working in a health care in dentistry and I’m locum nurse. I need some advice regarding couple if situations. Since I joined this company it seems I’m getting less hour of work and it reflecting on my wage. I spoke with my general manager which is owning the business and since then I notice couple of things from my area manager. First of all I receive a shift late in the night at 22pm and be sorted of forced to go on that place to work even it wasn’t on my allocated journey time and second on a following day I’ve been removed from the shift and put it on a stand by which it makes me suspicious. Because I’ve been asked personal by the one of the member of the staff on that work place if I’m happy to come to work in that shifts and I confirm it. I have couple other things to explain but it will take to long. My question is do you think I’m discriminated and I’m not receiving work because I speak with the general manager? Is any other reason? Where I can get some help? Thank you.

  4. Nellie says:

    I and a number of other colleagues (both male and female ) have recently discovered that some other colleagues ( both male and female ) have been receiving ‘End of shift ‘ payments for ‘closing shop duties ‘ that we have not despite all of us carrying out similar/exact duties and all leaving at the same time Is this practise adopted by the employer illegal ?

  5. Bill says:

    Hey guys my names bill and i wondered if you could help me I have dyslexia and dyspraxia i also suffer from depression and anxiety due to recent events in my life My worl place have know since i applyed that i have learning difficulties and i have brought it to thire attention on several occasions under the 2010 Equality Act in the uk i am classed as law as a disabled person My work place are taking me to a hearing for gross misconduct as i was late twice in a week i got confused by my rota thats on a system on my work pc When i read somtimes i dont take the infomation in correctly also i get lost between paragraphs also my learning difficulties cause me to struggel with organisation but they have not made any adjustments to help me like they could give a fixed shift for instance and not a different one evrey day should i take this further? Please do get back to me

  6. Lara says:

    I didn’t get promoted for an overseas position because I come from an ethnic group which is hated in the country where I should have worked and my boss told me I could even get killed! I am a female employee and I think this is a direct discrimination!! Can they do this justifying for my safety??? Thanks

  7. jackieb says:

    Hi Recently joined a health Trust where senior employees are on shift patterns and newer employees are relief with shifts given a few weeks in advance. Is this discriminating against young workers and parents?

  8. Tommy says:

    I’ve had two large periods off work over the past 3 years due to needing two knee operations. I work in a physical job. I’ve recently been told that those periods of sickness will go against my promotion application and have even unofficially told me that due to my Level 1 warning for attendance it may automatically exclude my application. Is this legal?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Tommy – They may affect your chances if sickness/absence records are part of the promotion assessment. If your employer feels your performance might be impeded by your knee problems that would also be a valid reason not to promote you (unless you are actually disabled).

  9. Mike says:

    I work in Southampton docks. .6 months of the year supervising cruises…6 months running the fruit terminal..Whilst working on the cruises, a agency employee on so many occasions was lazy.. performed poorly, missed shifts…bad time keeping etc… Whilst on the fruit terminal I can choose from the agency who I have to help us twice a week…I did ñot want this lad working on the fruit as I am fully aware ofor his work ethics. ..I did in the end use him twice, then he failed to turn up for his shift on the third shift. I therefore told the agency I would not be requiring his services anymore….am I being dicriminant against him ?

  10. Miffy says:

    Having worked for same employer for 13 yrs, went part time 12 yrs ago due to motherhood, now wish to increase hours. Hours are available as a staff shuffle has happened, are they obliged to offer me the hours first before advertising?

  11. Joannie says:

    I’ve been off work for 5 months having had 2 knee replacements, my boss keeps threatening to change my hour from 30 a week to 10 hrs a week and says my contract will be the first to be changed as I’ve been off sick, before anyone else’s contract is changed in the work place. Is she allowed to change my contract while I’m off sick? And is it discrimination that she is doing mine first?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Joannie. We don’t have all the details, but you must be consulted using the correct procedures before your hours can be changed. If you do not agree, you can claim breach of contract.

  12. jab says:

    is it legal that the same people are working in one location getting 9 hours (1 hour overtime) everyday when i have to go to diffrent locations and if i finnish the job before the 9 hours are up i only get 8 hours

  13. mills says:

    i had an accident at work in 2010 had to get operation which my employer admitted liability for and in 2014 had to get another operation as previous in 2010 i went back to work 6months later in 2014 light duties operation not helped so far 3 months later my employer asked me to go to my doctors to get a fit note which i did which my employer excepted for 2 days now they have sent me home saying i cant do my job which i was doing as i said they sent me home and said i am on sick now where do i stand ??

    • Safe Workers says:

      @mills – If you are no longer able to do your job after a workplace injury it would be fair for your employer to offer you an alternative position if there is one available. You may want to see the advice an employment injury law specialist to establish the options open to you.

  14. ja says:

    Is it workplace discrimmation when my boss sets my thermostat down in my office to 66 in order to make a co-wroker feel more comfortable in her office because she says she is hot? Other workers have small heaters running in their office and I was told I could not turn one on in my office. It is June and I am having to wear a coat and gloves to try and stay warm. I can’t concertate on my work I am so cold. I have complained about this but she says we have to keep the other worker comfortable. What about me being comfortable so I can get my work done.

  15. worried worker says:

    Does my company have the right to suspend my forklift licence because I have admitted being an alcoholic, I feel as if I am being singled out for admitting something that’s been getting a struggle to admit over the last 2 years.

  16. francesca says:

    Thanks for the sharing this article with us ! I’m based in england but i from Italie and it’s really hard to find a job here… and sometimes i really feel it’s because i’m not a native english cause really my english is good (i m here since 2 years now!) and also it’s annoying hearing all the time you don’t have enough experience ! Well i needed help cause it’s like nobody ever had a 1st job ? and plus i’ve done many internship ! Sometime it’s really hard to take and deal with negative answer even more when it’s based on wrong thinking… so i found this company called Your24hCoach and it’s brilliant ! I picket a coach who speak my language, and she is really good, professional, here for me anytime, giving me support, advice, key that i need to be able to keep going and reach my goals ! I honestly recommend them ! Wish you luck ! x

  17. Bruno says:

    Hello, I have a question I hope you will be able to answer. I’ve been working for over three years for the company. For more than two years I’ve been working day shift or rather evening shift and weekends , finishing shift at 22:00. I build my life around this pattern during that period. My employer recently asked me to change to the night shift, to 4 on-4 off. During my day shift I am doing most stuff which are not in my job description- I’m doing more than I have to, and I made a clear to employer I would like to get a cross promotion for the permanent day job. By changing my shift patterns I feel I making a step back in my career. I made a clear to my supervisor I am not happy with that and I’d rather stay within my hours, on which I got answer this is a buisness need and he won’t change his mind. I must stress that they have to cover my current shift by external company or a new employee doing what I do at the moment. What rights do I have in your opinon? Do I have to agree for night shifts?

  18. smitty says:

    I am a part-time worker and my GOVT employer has been really awful to the part-time workers, most of which are people (women) with child care. They have forced changes of shifts onto us in order to conform with a new callcentre system they have imposed on all the call centre workers. Our calls are all recorded, listened into by mystery shoppers, silently monitered by managers, timed down to the second and we ar not allowed to stand up outside of our lunch breaks (exactly 1 hour – not a minute more or less) and our breaks (exactly 15minutes) . They are making all the staff depresssed and stresssed and we are all responsible adults with often, degreees and years of experience. What is going on ?? I think they get bonus payments when we “achieve our targets” sic.

  19. cal says:

    when anyone refers to discrimination talking or in writing as above it always leaves out the words white christian and male one could believe that it is not possible to discriminate against them it is very easy to bring charges against white male christians but no one wants to know the other side remember hooky ranting about christians for a time he had police protection to carry on. A white male christian would have been arrested in seconds remember the days when a black person would taunt a white officer to see if he was racist. discrimination does happen and it should stop but if you enforce one side of discrimination only you set up a condition that supports the continuation of discrimination the human condition will always take advantage when possible remember the bad old days when if you got stopped by the police or authority ” its cause i is black” that still happens today supported by the laws that are meant to stop it if i were to go out today and make comments to a person about his beliefs, race, or disability I would be arrested for discrimination if a person of an ethnic minority were to say the same things to me the possibility of his being arrested for discrimination is just about non-existant the law in its present for is discrimination.

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