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16 Racial Discrimination

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1. Introduction

2. When discrimination can happen

3. What the law says

The Race Relations Act protects you from racial discrimination and harassment and gives you the right to challenge negative discrimination in the courts or at an employment tribunal. Taking someone to court or to a tribunal may change the way an organisation behaves so other people are not discriminated against in future.

The Act also makes racial discrimination by public bodies (such as the police) unlawful and requires government departments and other public organisations to have policies to promote racial equality.

The law protects all racial groups – not just black and ethnic minority groups – from discrimination.


The law on equality talks about three types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – when you are treated less favourably because of race. This includes the situation where you are treated less favourably because of your race but also where you are treated less favourably because of someone else’s race. For example, if you refuse to follow an instruction by your employer to discriminate against someone from a different race and are then dismissed, you can claim racial discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination – where rules or conditions apply without good reason and they have a worse effect on some racial groups than on others. For example, there could be indirect discrimination if a job had a requirement to have ‘English as a mother tongue’ because it might exclude some racial groups whose first language is not English, but who speak fluent English.
  • Victimisation – when you are treated less favourably because you complained of racial discrimination or helped a colleague who did so.


Harassment is unwanted behaviour which that hurts your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating atmosphere for you.

This leaflet covers five main areas where discrimination or harassment may happen:

  • At work.
  • When you have left your job.
  • When you are renting or buying somewhere to live.
  • At school or college.
  • When you are buying or using goods or services.


4. Discrimination at work

5. Harassment at work

6. Discrimination when renting or buying a house or flat

7. Discrimination at school or college

8. Discrimination when buying goods or services

9. What you can do about discrimination

10. Going to an employment tribunal

11. Going to court

12. The Human Rights Act

13. Further help

14. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with the Commission for Racial Equality.

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The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version:  July 2017

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