Experiencing discrimination in the workplace


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When it comes to discrimination in the workplace, worryingly, the UK scores the highest across Europe. In 2019, ADP surveyed over 10,000 employees in the UK. It found that 38% of respondents had experienced discrimination in the workplace. This compared to a European average of 30% elsewhere.

On top of this, the most commonly reported forms of workplace discrimination were, age (11%), gender (9%), appearance (7%) and race/nationality (7%).

However, despite its prevalence, many employees are unaware of their rights. Others may even question if what they have experienced counts discrimination.

Well, workplace discrimination comes in many different forms. Whether its denying an employee training opportunities based on their gender, refusing to promote someone because of their sexuality, or not hiring someone due to their race, these are all examples of discrimination.

Employees may also feel hesitant around what action they should take, and whether reporting discrimination will impact their job security.

Keep reading to find out the true definition of workplace discrimination, learn about your rights, and discover helpful hints and tips on how to navigate your situation.

What counts as discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee is treated differently based on prejudice against that individual’s personal characteristics.

There are also a few different types of workplace discrimination, some more obvious than others. Direct discrimination is one of the more explicit forms. This occurs when an employer treats an employee less favourably based on a specific characteristic/s.

An example of this is; an employer paying an employee less money on the basis of their race, sexuality or religious beliefs. Equally, if an employer refuses to make reasonable workplace adjustments to cater for disabled employees, this is also direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination occurs in cases where workplaces implement policies, procedures or rules that specifically disadvantage a specific group of employees. One specific example of indirect discrimination is; the introduction of a new dress code that prohibits cornrow hairstyles. This could be a form of racial discrimination, due to certain racial groups being more likely to wear these hairstyles.

Harassment is also a form of workplace discrimination and occurs when an individual is targeted with unwanted conduct on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as race, age or gender. In order for this conduct to be considered harassment, it must be carried out with the intention of violating the employee’s dignity.

Victimisation is the fourth main category of workplace discrimination. This refers to the “detriment” an employee suffers for taking forward a complaint of discrimination or giving evidence for a discrimination claim.

Employees may also experience workplace discrimination in the form of microaggressions. This is far more subversive than direct or indirect discrimination, and includes passing comments, or insults. These comments are also typically related to an employee’s gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability.

Microaggressions are an incredibly common form of discrimination in the workplace, and also come in the form of microinsults and microinvalidation. A recent study conducted by Lean In, found that 64% of women experience microaggressions in the workplace. It also found that, lesbian women, bisexual women, BAME women and women with disabilities are more likely to be targeted with microaggressions.

What are your rights?

Being faced with discrimination in the workplace can really take a toll on an employees mental health and wellbeing. It may feel as though there’s nothing you can do to stop it, and that you have no rights. But, you do.

The Equality Act was introduced back in 2010, and brought together 116 different pieces of legislation under one Act. In essence, it upholds the rights of individuals, and ensures that they are protected from unfair treatment.

In the Act, there are 9 protected characteristics that are safeguarded against discrimination. These characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership

Additionally, under the Act, employees are protected throughout every stage of employment. This includes:

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Employment terms and conditions
  • Salary and benefits
    Promotion, transfer and other advancement opportunities
  • Redundancy
  • Dismissal

What steps do you need to take?

If you find yourself in the difficult position of being discriminated against, you may feel isolated, alienated and well…a bit lost.

You may also have experienced intimidation at the hands of a superior or colleague, and feel concerned about what the repercussions might be if you speak out.

However, there are a few steps that you can take to address and resolve the situation. And, remember, you’re not alone.

To begin with, it’s important that you keep a record of all of the discrimination you experience. Whether explicit or implicit, it’s all important for your case. In your record, be sure to include the specific details and facts, as well as the date the incidents took place, where it happened, and who was involved.

The next important step, is to informally address the situation by confronting the co-worker or superior who has subjected you to discrimination. Bring forward your grievances, present them pragmatically and try and resolve the problem together.

Reporting workplace discrimination informally is not always effective, and you may need to take further steps. If you find yourself unsatisfied with the response you receive, it might be time to write a grievance letter to your employer.

This will instigate the formal grievance process, whereby your employer will request you attend a meeting to discuss your complaint. This is known as a grievance meeting. Your employer should then commence an investigation into your complaint.

After this you will go through a negotiating process with your employer, to try and reach an agreement. This will involve early conciliation using an organisation called Acas, as a mediator. However, there is a time-limit on this process, which is typically 3 months from the date of the incident you are reporting.

If you find that you are unfortunately unable to resolve the situation this way, it might be time to consider taking your case to an employment tribunal. However, this can only be done if you have gone through early conciliation.

There are also some things you should contemplate before going forward with this decision. Assess whether you think your case is strong enough, and backed up by sufficient evidence. Also reflect on whether or not you feel mentally prepared to go forward with a tribunal. It can be a psychologically gruelling experience, and can take up to a year to conclude. Another important factor to consider, is whether you are able to either pay for representation or find legal aid. Legal representation will play a big part in the success of your case.

Ultimately, throughout this process, and regardless of the route you choose to take, it’s important to focus on your own mental health and wellbeing. Focus on developing positive self-care routines and try not to let the situation overwhelm you. Stay in tune with your feelings and emotions, and reach out to your GP to discuss the impact your claim is having on your wellbeing if you are struggling.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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