Steps to follow
It is illegal for your employer to treat you less favourably (ie discriminate against you) because of your: gender; marital status; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity leave; sexual orientation; disability; race; colour; ethnic background; nationality; religion or belief; age.
Your employer is also not allowed to sack you or treat you less favourably than other workers because you work part time or are on a fixed-term contract.
Discrimination can take many forms such as passing someone over for promotion, paying someone less for doing the same job, or refusing to provide training. It can happen at work or in off-site work settings such as at a work party.
Discrimination is divided into two classifications: direct and indirect discrimination. You are being directly discriminated against if you’re being treated in a way which puts you at a disadvantage compared to a colleague (real or hypothetical) who is not of your race, sex, religion etc. It doesn’t matter what the reason was or whether it was intentional or not - the defence of justification cannot be used in cases of direct discrimination. You can be indirectly discriminated against if your employer introduces a policy or a requirement of employment which disadvantages one group (gender, race, religion etc) more than another. You must show you’ve actually been disadvantaged by the policy. Employers may justify the policy if they can show it is necessary for the way the business works, and there’s no other way of achieving it.
Being harassed at work is also illegal: harassment occurs when someone’s conduct (could be verbal or physical) creates an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for you or “violates your dignity”. There’s no need to show loss. Treating you less favourably because you have rejected or submitted to harassment is also harassment.
There are several options open to you if you’re being discriminated against but it’s best to try to sort it out informally first, so talk the problem through with your manager or, if they’re the problem, their manager or someone in human resources.
You could ask to be transferred to a different team or a different site which saves you having to get into any confrontation but it might not be the right career choice for you and the person responsible will escape unpunished.
You could suggest to your employer that you sit down with an independent, neutral body like ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) who will help you arrive at a solution. Conciliation is only voluntary though, so your employer doesn’t have to agree.
Another option is making a formal complaint to your employer and go through the company grievance procedure (details of how to do this should be in the company handbook). If you tell your employer you’re being discriminated against, they must take reasonable steps to end it. If they don’t, you can bring an employment tribunal claim.
If you feel you have a strong enough case – a solicitor will be able to advise you on this - you could bring a claim at employment tribunal. You will usually have had to go through the company grievance procedure first. You can bring a discrimination claim against your employers, the person whose conduct you are complaining about, or both. The employers may have a defence if they can show they took all reasonable steps to stop the discrimination.
The tribunal has the power to award you compensation, order that you be reinstated or recommend actions which will lessen the effect of the discrimination on you.
What to watch out for
Whatever action you opt for – and you need to be clear beforehand as to what you want – make sure you’re prepared: keep a diary of the offending conduct, noting down what happened plus times, dates and possible witnesses; keep copies of any relevant letters, texts or emails; make notes of relevant phone calls. Read through your employment contract, staff handbook and any other company policies and procedures. Try and get legal advice before you take one of the more formal courses of action and get someone to represent you at the tribunal if you go.
Solicitor’s top tip
If you’re planning to take your discrimination case to an employment tribunal make sure you bring your claim in plenty of time: you usually have three months from the time of the discriminatory conduct. If you go through your company’s grievance procedure first, you have another three months from the date of the grievance to make a claim to a tribunal.
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer
Overview of employment rights (personal)
Age discrimination (business)
Overview of sex discrimination in employment
Overview of race discrimination
Overview of sex discrimination
Age discrimination (personal)
Disability discrimination (personal)
Choosing an employment lawyer
Rights to maternity leave
Overview of pay (pay rises, pay cuts, notice pay, etc.)