Race discrimination

Your race can include your skin colour, nationality, ethnicity and country of origin. In Northern Ireland, members of the Irish Travellers community are regarded as a racial group.

Employers must not unlawfully discriminate on the grounds of race. There are many ways in which employers could unlawfully discriminate. These can include:

  • harassment;
  • bullying;
  • indirect discrimination;
  • victimisation;
  • direct discrimination.

If your employer or potential employer fails to stop any of these things occurring, they may be discriminating.

It doesn’t matter if the race discrimination is deliberate or purposeful, or whether the person committing the act of discrimination thinks it is “harmless fun”. The law exists to prevent discrimination and punish those who discriminate.

Racial discrimination legislation covers all aspects of employment, including:

  • pay;
  • terms and conditions;
  • redundancy;
  • dismissal;
  • recruitment;
  • training;
  • promotion;
  • working conditions.

In certain circumstances, it can extend to protection after the working relationship has ended.

Discrimination can happen in any of these areas, and may be direct or indirect.

Indirect race discrimination

If your employer has set up working practices that disadvantage those from a particular racial group, they are breaking the law unless the employer can show that the working practice in question is justified – in other words, that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Your rights

You have the right to equal pay, benefits and conditions with your co-workers. You also have the right to work with no fear of discrimination. If your employer allows racial discrimination in the workplace, they are breaking the law.

You also have the right not to be victimised for taking action against racial discrimination. You cannot, for example, be called to a disciplinary meeting for complaining that you have been discriminated against at work.

Remember, discrimination need not be a deliberate act and people may not know they are discriminating. If you have issues regarding your racial equality rights, contact your UNISON rep.

Positive action

Positive action is a form of lawful discrimination that is allowed if a particular racial group is under-represented in the workplace or if that group is reasonably thought to suffer from a particular disadvantage. This may include support and training for people of a particular racial group.

In Northern Ireland, this is permitted to meet specific needs such as training etc to enable a racial group to compete for particular work if that group is under-represented in that area of work. Similar provisions apply to encourage members of particular racial groups to get involved within trade unions, employers’ associations or any professional or trade organisations.

However, it is not legal for an employer to employ a person on the grounds of race, although applications can be encouraged.

If you are a victim of racial discrimination

If you are being discriminated against, you should contact your line manager. If you do not feel that the issue has been successfully resolved, you should contact your local UNISON rep, who will advise you of the next course of action. Find out how to contact your rep.

Remember, strict time limits apply when claiming discrimination at work (usually three months less one day), (the time limit in Northern Ireland is usually three months exactly) so make sure you contact your rep immediately.

Key facts
  • “Race” includes skin colour, nationality, ethnicity and country of origin.
  • In Northern Ireland, Irish Travellers are regarded as a racial group.
  • By law, employers must not discriminate against any employee on the basis of their race.
  • Act immediately if you think you are being discriminated against.

FAQs

Race discrimination

  • Am I at risk by complaining about racism in the workplace?

    You have the legal right to complain about racism in the workplace and you should be free from victimisation as a result.

    It is also illegal for your employer to discipline you on the grounds that you have made a complaint of racism.

  • Am I at risk by complaining about racism at work?

    You have the legal right to complain about racism in the workplace and not be victimised because of your complaint.

    It is also illegal for your employer to discipline you on the grounds that you have made a complaint of racism.

  • What should I do if I am being bullied at work?

    Take detailed notes of any incidents, including times and dates.

    If you can, speak to your employer about the matter, as this may be the best way to solve the problem.

    Tell your UNISON rep of the matter also, so they can support you and help you resolve the issue.  Find out how to contact your rep.

  • How do I know if I am being discriminated against

    Some people may discriminate without realising it.

    The main criterion for checking whether you are being discriminated against is being treated less favourably because of your race.

  • What if my employer ignores racial harassment in my workplace?

    Your employer must take all reasonable practicable steps to prevent racial harassment at work.

    In the public sector, the Equality Act 2010 requires employers to have “due regard” of the need to eliminate discrimination, victimisation and harassment and to the need to advance equality of opportunity.

    Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, public authorities are required to give “due regard” to  the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons of different racial groups.

    They are also required to “have regard of” the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different racial groups.

    If your employer does not know about racism in the workplace, explain the issue to them. If the matter is not resolved, contact your UNISON rep immediately. Find out how to contact your rep.

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