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16 Racial Discrimination

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1. Introduction

2. When discrimination can happen

3. What the law says

4. Discrimination at work

5. Harassment at work

It is against the law for your employer or a colleague to racially harass you. If the person harassing you does not stop after you have asked them to, you should complain to your employer.

Many employers treat racial harassment by their staff as a disciplinary offence, and they should discipline the person harassing you. If your employer does not do anything or does not do enough to prevent it, you can take a claim against them to an employment tribunal.

In many cases, you could also:

  • take legal action against the person who is harassing you or against your employer, in court under the Protection from Harassment Act, 1977; or
  • make a claim for negligence or breach of contract against your employer.

If you are attacked you should report it to the police. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, harassment or assault that has a racist motive may carry a higher penalty for the person who has attacked you.

Discrimination or harassment after leaving your job

An employer must not racially discriminate against or harass you after you have left your job.  An example of this might be refusing to give you a reference when other employees of a different racial group are given such a reference.

Responsibility of employers

The Race Relations Act says employers are responsible for acts of racial discrimination or harassment by their employees and agents, unless they have taken reasonable measures to prevent it.

You can take a case to an employment tribunal if you suffer discrimination or harassment (see ‘Going to an employment tribunal’ for more information).

When an employer is allowed to discriminate

There are a few cases when an employer is allowed to discriminate.

  • If a person’s race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin is a genuine requirement or qualification for the job and there is no alternative other than for a person from that group to do the job.
  • If there is a rule that restricts employment to people of a particular nationality or national origin. This applies only to employment by the Crown or a public body.
  • If the matter is not covered by the Race Relations Act.

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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