Stop racism at work: Bosses you can do more


A recent study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed that a third of black or minority ethnic workers (BME) have been subject to racism at work. A third? Yes, a third. That’s a hell of a lot of racism. According to the survey over a fifth of BME workers stated that they had been passed over for training or promotion, and over 43% of BME workers stated that they didn’t report discrimination to their employers. These are worrying statistics.

Employers, you really need to address the problem. 

If you’re looking for a business case for eradicating racism at work there is one. A recent Race in the Workplace Report found that if BME workers progressed in their careers at the same rates as white counterparts £24 billion could be added to the economy. It shouldn’t though take pound signs for employers to tackle race discrimination head on. The moral case should be strong enough.


What’s the law?

Under our equality legislation, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate directly by treating a job applicant or employee less favourably because of race. Race is defined as including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. It’s not necessary to show that the perpetrator discriminated consciously – just that race played a significant part in the treatment.

It’s also unlawful for an employer to discriminate by applying a provision, criterion or practice that disadvantages job applicants or employees of a particular group without justification.

Harassment related to race and victimisation are prohibited too.


The reality

The problem is that the law only works if it’s enforced. As the TUC study has shown, a large proportion of the BME workers don’t report discrimination to their bosses. Allegations of race discrimination are not easy to prove, and bringing a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal is also not straight forward.

Of course now that the tribunal fee system has been held unlawful, it’s easier to bring claims. Nevertheless, the cost and stress of  pursuing litigation will still put people off.


Proactive rather than reactive

So if we’re going to stamp out discrimination, bosses you have to take the lead.

It’s no good just saying to your staff that if they have a complaint they can bring a grievance.

It’s necessary for you to instil a healthy culture of equal opportunity. It means having direct discussions with your managers about the values that are important to your organisation. It means ensuring that staff attend equal opportunity courses – not because they have to but because they want to. It means that you have to monitor recruitment, retention and promotion trends. It means that when you do spot potential concerns rather than turning a blind eye (hoping that your fears are unfounded) you investigate. It means that when you do find discriminatory practices you ensure that you take corrective action.

Standing up for what you believe is what leadership is all about.

If you need any advice on discrimination issues or have other employment law queries please call 0203 797 1264.