What Can I Do about Discrimination at Work?

07 August 2018

If you have been the victim of discrimination in the workplace, there are a number of things you can do, including raising a formal complaint, attempting to resolve the issue through mediation, and making a claim at an Employment Tribunal.

You may not be sure which option is best for you and all of these things do take time. This is why we offer an initial assessment of an employment situation by an Employment Solicitor for a low cost fixed fee.

What is Discrimination at Work?

According to the law in England and Wales, employers are not allowed to treat employees (or potential employees) unfavourably because of their:

AgeRaceSexSexual orientationReligion or beliefDisabilityGender reassignmentMarriage and civil partnershipPregnancy and maternity

The nine characteristics listed above are known as 'protected characteristics'. If you believe you have been treated less favourably in a workplace because of one of these protected characteristics, you may have been a victim of discrimination at work.

Direct Discrimination or Indirect Discrimination

Sometimes discrimination will be direct. This might include not being offered a job because you're a woman, being made redundant because of your age, or being given more menial jobs than your other colleagues because of your race.

Or discrimination may be indirect. This is when you're treated the same as other employees, but it has a greater effect on you because of who you are. One example might be if you're told that you must work Saturdays, but for you Saturdays are holy because you're Jewish.

There are two other types of discrimination at work: harassment and victimisation.

Harassment is when you're bullied because of a protected characteristic. For instance, you might receive abusive or unpleasant comments from people at work because you're homosexual. Even if these are perceived by others to be a 'joke', it can amount to discrimination.

Victimisation is when you complain about the discrimination you have experienced, or your co-worker has experienced, and you are treated less favourably as a result of having complained.

What to do if you are subject to discrimination at work

If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination at work, you shouldn't sit back and accept it. It is unlawful in England and Wales to treat anyone less favourably in the workplace, unless there is an acceptable reason for doing so.

So what should you do? Well the first thing is to record the date(s) and details of the incident (or incidents) in which you feel you were discriminated against. Keep any evidence, such as emails, and note down whether there were any witnesses.

If possible, you should then try to resolve the matter informally with your employer. If this isn't a viable option, there are various other things you can do. These include:

Raise a formal complaint

If you can't resolve the matter informally with your employer, your next step is to raise a formal complaint. It's possible that your employer will have a grievance procedure that you should follow. If you're a member of a Trade Union, you might also want to contact them at this stage to ask for advice and support.


If a formal complaint does not lead to a satisfactory conclusion, you might want to try Alternative Dispute Resolution, also known as Mediation. This is when a specially trained mediator works to help you and your employer reconcile your differences. This mediator will be completely independent, so won't be anyone you know or work with. ACAS is one organisation which can offer Mediation.

Make a claim in the Employment Tribunal

If mediation doesn't work, or you don't think it's appropriate, you might want to make a discrimination claim against your employer. At this stage it's a good idea to instruct a Solicitor who specialises in Employment Law, if you haven't already done so.

You'll need to go through the Early Conciliation process first, which is like mediation, but organised through ACAS. If Early Conciliation does not prove successful, your Employment Solicitor can help you to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal, where an Employment Judge will decide whether or not you have been the victim of discrimination.

If the Employment Judge finds in your favour, you will be awarded compensation to reflect the damages you have incurred. Your compensation settlement might include an award for your injured feelings, the earnings you have lost, and expenses.

However, it's important to note there are time limits when taking a claim to an Employment Tribunal. Therefore it's best to get legal advice without delay.

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