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 but sadly that’s still not the case in modern Britain.

Thankfully a raft of new laws has been introduced in recent times to help increase diversity and equality, and protect disadvantaged groups from discrimination.

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

What is Discrimination?

Despite decades of race relations and increasing employment law, discrimination can still be a fact of life for many people working in the UK.

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, while Pregnant Women still suffer high levels of discrimination.

As well the recent legal changes the government also has an organisation in place to help promote diversity and fight discrimination, it is called The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) and was launched in October 2007.

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 discrimination laws the flowing areas are covered:


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 to accommodate disabled workers or applicants.

Age (from October 2006)

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 massive implications for the workplace because around 59% of people feel they have been disadvantaged because of their age.

How to Deal with Discrimination

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

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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