What Is Race Discrimination?

Neathouse Partners advise what race discrimination is and how to stay on the right side of employment law, avoiding expensive tribunals and legal fees.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


05 September 2018


17 July 2024
3 min read

Race discrimination is when you are treated unfairly because of your raceThere are four types of race discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: Discriminating against someone due to their race, or how their race is perceived or the race of someone they are associated with.
  • Indirect discrimination: A provision or criterion applied equally to all employees, but put those with a certain protected characteristics at a particular disadvantage without justification.
  • Harassment: Unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating and humiliating environment for an individual. This can include bullying, ‘banter’ or inappropriate questions. This can be verbal, written or physical.
  • Victimisation: Being treated less favourably for making or supporting an allegation concerning race discrimination. An employee is protected if they support an allegation in good faith, even if the allegation turns out to be untrue.

Where Can Race Discrimination Take Place?

There are many areas within the workplace where race discrimination can occur, but there are five key areas in particular:


When placing job adverts, as an employer, you should avoid any references to race or any other protected characteristics.

It is also best to deter from advertising in only one specific place or type of media that would only attract a certain race.

Care must be taken when specifying the language requirements of a job role, and it is advisable to avoid advertising for a specific nationality.

You cannot reject candidates on the basis that they do not have English qualifications.

Many overseas qualifications are comparable to English qualifications.

If unsure, The UK National Recognition Information Centre provides information on qualifications from all over the world.

Pay And Terms & Conditions Of Employment

No contractual terms and conditions should disadvantage or exclude employees due to their race or perceived race, or association with someone of a particular race.


Employees should not be rejected for promotion opportunities because of their race.

It would be discrimination if because of their race. It would be discrimination if:

  • Job adverts were only shared with those of a particular race
  • An employee with all the relevant skills and qualifications was rejected because it is perceived that they would not fit in due to their race
  • There are unwritten rules that candidates for certain positions should be of a certain race
  • An employee was not promoted because they have previously made a complaint about discrimination.


Training opportunities must not be withheld from certain employees because of their race, perceived race or because of an association with someone of a certain race.


Dismissing someone because of their race would, in nearly all cases, be considered as unfair dismissal.

Managing Cultural Differences In The Workplace

It is important to be mindful of the diverse range of backgrounds that employees may have.

As an employer, you should be sensitive and respectful towards any cultural differences.

If necessary, training should be provided to establish a culture of respect within the workplace and to create an understanding of the acceptable and unacceptable behaviours in the workplace.

Racial stereotyping (assuming that all of one race has the same tendencies), should be avoided by all, as it can often have negative repercussions and can potentially be categorised as race discrimination.

Ethnic Origin And Religion

As an employer, you should be aware that there is potential for crossover between the protected characteristics of race and religion, such as Jews, who are an ethnic group and also have their own religion.

Whilst you are not required to give employees time off for religious observances, you should try and accommodate them where possible.

Being culturally sensitive creates a content workforce, and makes good business sense.

Occupational Requirements

In exceptionally rare circumstances, it may be lawful for you to specify that job applicants must have a particular protected characteristic.

If this is the case, any such requirement must:

  • Be crucial to the post and not just an important factor;
  • Relate to the nature of the job;
  • Be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

All three criterion must be satisfied to meet the occupational requirement threshold.

Specialist legal advice should be sought before claiming occupational requirement, as the criterion can be difficult to satisfy.

Positive Action: What You Can Do As An Employer

If as an employer, you believe that:

  • Applicants are disadvantaged because of their race;
  • Certain groups are underrepresented in your organisation because of race;
  • Some employees have specific needs linked to their race...

...you can take positive action.

You must be able to prove that you have reasonably considered positive action and that in doing so, it will not discriminate against others.

If possible, you may legally:

  • Take proportionate steps to remove any barriers or disadvantages;
  • Provide support and training to encourage employees of a particular race to participate.

This is again, a complex area, where it may be best to seek further legal guidance and advice.

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