As an employee, it’s a horrible experience to feel discriminated against at work. Too often, people going through this don’t know if they should or can do something about it. Even if they do, knowing the first steps to take can be challenging. Discrimination at work cases can have a severe impact on everyone involved. What difficult dilemmas do employees commonly face? How do you decide what to do next? What are the options? We take a look to help you at the outset.

discrimination at work

What is discrimination?

Recently, a BBC manager turned down a promotion over an equal pay dispute. She was offered a salary substantially less than a male colleague, despite assurances that the roles and responsibilities were the same. In this instance, she took decisive action herself and a legal claim may yet happen. Equal pay is just one example of where discrimination at work exists. Watch the video below for an explanation of the types of discrimination that may affect you.

Common dilemmas

Here are some common thoughts and feelings people have when considering whether or not to raise the issue of discrimination:

  • Do I feel strongly enough that this situation/behaviour is unfair and unjust?
  • Is it the right thing to do?
  • Is this situation/behaviour discrimination or not?
  • Can I negotiate a deal without things going to a tribunal?
  • I want to do something but how do I raise it?
  • I’m scared of discussing it with my manager/colleagues in case it gets out
  • Will others suffer in the future if I don’t do something?
  • Will I be taken seriously or be believed?
  • Is it too much hassle, will it take too long, will it be worth it?
  • Am I up to dealing with it? Will my health and wellbeing suffer too much?
  • If it doesn’t go anywhere, will I suffer retribution?
  • Whatever happens, will it be held against me affecting my current and future job and career?

What are my options?

Here are some routes to consider to help you make up your mind and then to start the process:

  • Check your employer’s discrimination policy. If there isn’t one, go to the ACAS website for the current legal guidelines. Here’s their guide to asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace. Another useful site is the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Also, check out this highly informative guide to understanding your rights at work (including COVID-19 guidance).
  • Capture evidence as soon as possible (written notes, audio, video) in case things proceed to a more formal stage. One way of reducing the need to go to a tribunal is to negotiate a deal with your employer. If you don’t have evidence, try the written questions procedure (see the video below).
  • If you trust your manager, go to them first. Alternatively, go to HR (if it exists). If none, go to a trusted, more senior colleague. Speak to a Union or work representative. You will have to weigh up the risks for each of these options taking account of the organisational culture and the people involved.
  • If you don’t trust anyone internally, make an appointment at your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. They are independent and objective and will help you draft an informal letter about taking an off-the-record without prejudice approach with your employer (see the final video below). Here’s their advice about deciding what to do about possible discrimination at work.
  • Use free resources like these YouTube videos and discrimination guides and templates from reputable employment law firms.
  • Pay for advice from an Employment lawyer. Often, you get an initial free consultation.

How do I manage myself?

There are two overlapping aspects to managing yourself through the experience of discrimination at work. Firstly, your personal wellbeing as you will need resilience, energy, and assertiveness. Secondly, your professional reputation as you will need to continue working and be effective. Coaching can help if you struggle in these areas.

Take control and shape how you want to be seen rather than letting others do it. Remember, most people and employers want to keep private any discrimination dispute. However, it may take its toll on you emotionally and, potentially, physically. So, do the right things for a healthy mind and body. Seek out external support from the people you trust including family and friends. If you are not alone in this situation, join with others to take collective action.

Overall, the keys to managing yourself well are having confidence and reassurance from being well informed and being well supported.

What is the impact on future job applications?

It’s understandable to be anxious about disclosing a previous dispute to a future employer. From a job and career perspective, remember that you and your employer have certain rights and obligations towards each other. Check out this Equality and Human Rights Commission guide to your rights when you apply for a job.

According to ACAS, references from your previous employers have to be accurate and fair. They can include answers to questions that the potential employer has specifically asked about the job applicant that are not usually given among the basic facts, such as absence levels and confirming the reason for leaving.

Thanks to our friends at Lex for partnering with us on this post! Lex provides affordable and accessible 15 min appointments with solicitors over the phone to ensure everyone has access to justice.