a worried woman

Have you ever experienced racism at work? In this resource you can find out what your rights are and what action you can take.You will learn key words to help you understand and talk about the problem.

What can I do if my employer treats me unfairly because of race?

  • Can an employer treat me unfairly because of race?

It’s against the law for someone you work for to treat you less favourably than other workers because of: 

  • your race
  • your colour
  • your nationality
  • the country you come from originally
  • your ethnic origins.

It's also against the law for you to be treated less favourably because of someone else's race, colour, nationality, country of origin or ethnic origins. For example, you should not be treated less favourably because your partner is black or Jewish.

‘Ethnic origins’ includes Jewish people, Romany gypsies, members of the Irish traveller community and Sikh people. It isn’t necessary for you to actually belong to one of these groups for discrimination to take place. It still counts as discrimination if someone discriminates against you because they think you belong to a particular ethnic group.

If you’re Muslim, this doesn’t count as an ethnic group. However, there is action you can take if you're being treated unfairly at work because of your faith or religious belief – see end of fact sheet for more details.

Discrimination can be either direct or indirect. An example of direct discrimination would be refusing to employ you, not offering you promotion or dismissing you because you’re black. Indirect discrimination is where someone you work for has rules, policies or practices, which, though not aimed at you directly, put you, or would put you, at a disadvantage because of your race. An example would be someone advertising a job that you can apply for only if you’ve got UK qualifications. Indirect discrimination can be justified if it can be shown to be an unavoidable business need.

Discrimination at work because of your race could include:denying you opportunities at work for development, promotion, or other benefitsdismissing youharassmentrefusing to give you a reference, or giving you an unfair reference when you leave your jobtreating you differently, for example, not offering you training which is offered to other staff on the same grade as you.

Racial harassment

It’s against the law for someone to harass or bully you at work because of your race. The person harassing you may be your employer or a colleague. Someone is harassing you if you find their behaviour towards you offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or in any way distressing. Harassment is against the law whether it’s intentional or not. For example, someone could be teasing or calling you names without meaning to be horrible. If you find it upsetting, it’s against the law.

What can I do if I am being treated unfairly or harassed at work?

If you’re being treated unfairly or harassed at work, take action as quickly as possible: 

  • get advice. A Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or refer you to a specialist. Details of how to find your nearest CAB are at the end of this fact sheet.
  • If you’re being harassed, ask the person to stop. Only do this if you feel it is safe. You may find it helpful to have a colleague or trade union representative with you when you do this
  • tell your manager that you’re being harassed or discriminated against. Put it in writing and keep a copy. Your employer is required by law to try to prevent the harassment. If the person harassing you is your manager, tell someone higher up in the organisation
  • talk to your personnel department or trade union. They might be able to help you stop the unfair treatment or bullying
  • collect evidence. This could include keeping a diary or record of the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done, if there were any witnesses and evidence of any similar incidents against other colleagues. Record the names and jobs of those you think are treated more favourably than you, or details of the rule or policy that puts you at a disadvantage and why
  • the law allows you to ask your employer to provide information through a questionnaire procedure. This can help you get information to support your case. Get advice early on as there are strict time limits for this procedure.

Making a formal complaint

If the unfair treatment or harassment doesn't stop, you may need to make a formal complaint. This is called raising a grievance and it must be in writing. All workplaces should have a grievance procedure. Your trade union or an adviser can help. The law can help protect you against victimization. However, you need to be aware that taking out a grievance or making a complaint could put your job at risk or make your life at work even more uncomfortable. If you think that taking out a grievance would put you at risk of violence or further harassment, get advice.


Extract of factsheet available at http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_factsheets.htm

Copyright © 2002-2012 Citizens Advice. All rights reserved Registered charity no: 279057 Company no: 1436945 England


Task 1 - vocabulary

Task 2 - reading comprehension

Task 3 - choose the correct advice



We would like to thank the Citizen's Advice Bureau for allowing us to use this factsheet. Further factsheets can be downloaded from this website:

Citizens Advice - work factsheets

  • Have you experienced unfair treatment in the UK?
  • Did you try to take action?
  • Would you know how to get help if you did experience unfair treatment?

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