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FAQs: Race Discrimination for Employees

Race discrimination is when someone is treated less favourable because of their race, colour, nationality, or ethnic or national origin. Our expert Employment Law solicitors answer questions about racial discrimination in the workplace.

  1. I think I may have been refused a job interview because I have an African surname – even though I am not African? Is this race discrimination?
  2. My employer is insisting that I pass a written English test to be promoted to a groundsmen role. English is my second language. Although I speak fluently, I am concerned I will be unable to pass the written test. Is this race discrimination?
  3. My colleague keeps making jokes about my skin colour – I am black. When I tell him that I don’t find the jokes funny and he is making me feel uncomfortable, he says he doesn’t mean it and that he’s just messing with me. What can I do?
  4. My former employer is refusing to give me a reference because I raised a direct race discrimination complaint while employed. Are they allowed to do this?
  5. Are there any times when an employer can discriminate because of your race?
  6. I have suffered race discrimination in the workplace – what can I do?
  7. Is there a time limit for bringing claims of race discrimination?

I think I may have been refused a job interview because I have an African surname – even though I am not African? Is this race discrimination?

Potentially yes. You can be discriminated against because of your race or because someone believes you are that race, even if you are not. This is called perceived race discrimination.

Examples of race discrimination include discriminating against someone due to their colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins.

Discrimination legislation protects you when you are applying to a job. This is the case even if you do not become an employee.

My employer is insisting that I pass a written English test to be promoted to a groundsmen role. English is my second language. Although I speak fluently, I am concerned I will be unable to pass the written test. Is this race discrimination?

This may be indirect discrimination. This occurs where your employer has a requirement that applies to all of its employees, but it is difficult for you and your racial group to comply with that requirement.

If your employer is unable to justify this requirement by showing it is necessary to have a certain level of written English for this role it may be indirect discrimination.

My colleague keeps making jokes about my skin colour – I am black. When I tell him that I don’t find the jokes funny and he is making me feeluncomfortable, he says he doesn’t mean it and that he’s just messing with me. What can I do?

This is racial harassment at work. Harassment is any unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

This would include colleagues making racist comments to you, whether about your race or about the race of other colleagues.

My former employer is refusing to give me a reference because I raised a direct race discrimination complaint while employed. Are they allowed to do this?

You should not be treated differently because you have raised a complaint of race discrimination, even where your employment has ended.

You may have a claim for race victimisation.

Are there any times when an employer can discriminate because of your race?

Yes, if they need to employ someone of a particular race due to the requirement of the role (an occupational requirement).

For example, a charity that provides welfare services to vulnerable individuals of a certain racial group might seek to employ support workers from the same racial group. This is because their clients are more likely to access and engage with their services if they employ a person of a particular race.

I have suffered race discrimination in the workplace – what can I do?

If you believe that you have suffered race discrimination in the workplace, you should raise a written complaint about your treatment. This is called a formal grievance.

You should check your employer’s grievance procedure before doing so and whether there are any other relevant policies, such as an Equal Opportunities Policy that they have breached.

Is there a time limit for bringing claims of race discrimination?

You must be very careful about time limits. You will usually have three months, less one day, to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Where there are a number of incidents that go back more than 3 months, they may be kept in time by arguing that they are linked because they are ‘continuing acts’. Before bringing a claim, you must notify the ACAS Early Conciliation Service about your potential dispute. This will usually extend the time you have to bring a claim.

For expert advice on race discrimination in the workplace, contact our Employment Law team on 01273 609911, or email info@ms-solicitors.co.uk.

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