Employment racism: here’s the truth

Did you know that nearly a third of employed people around the UK have experienced or witnessed employment racism? Ironically, the number of adults that admit to participating in racial discrimination is significantly lower. Is that because people don’t want to own up to their own harmful behaviour? Or, is not everyone fully aware of what exactly classifies as racism at work?

Whichever the case, preventing employment racism starts with understanding the topic. To help you out, we gathered everything you need to know about employment racism: from unlawful examples to exceptions, from your rights to standing up for others, and from looking for jobs to racism in the workplace. So, whether you’re a victim, an enabler, just curious or simply furious: this article on employment racism is for you.


Proof that racism at work is far from gone

Once upon a time at a company, not far from here, where racism at work was the norm. Until the UK Parliament updated the law in 1976, making employment racism illegal. Since then, a lot has changed. However, the impact of the recent pandemic (COVID-19) showed that racism at work and in recruitment is alive and happening. A TUC study reveals that job losses during the pandemic among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are double the rate compared to white people.

Sure, looking at cases of 50 years ago, we’ve come a long way. But, this proofs that the UK is still dealing with a structural issue of racism in the workplace. And, this isn’t a physical health journey, nor does it harm anyone to completely eliminate employment racism. So, if we’ve made slow progress in 50 years, imagine what we can accomplish if we do a sprint race against racial discrimination. But, you have to walk before you can run, so first, let’s go through some more basics regarding racism at work.


What is employment racism?

You may be familiar with the words “employment” and “racism”. But, do you know what the term really means? And do you understand how it applies in the context of your career? Let’s quickly go through the meaning of employment racism:

What is racism?

Racism is when someone is unfairly disadvantaged (a.k.a. discriminated against) for reasons related to:

  • Their race;
  • Their perceived race (whether the assumption is correct or not);
  • The race of someone they’re associated with (e.g. a partner).


What is discrimination?

To “discriminate” against someone is to act less favourable towards that person for some reason. Racial discrimination is illegal, and it includes:

  • Colour;
  • Nationality;
  • Ethnic origins;
  • National origins;
  • Race.


So, what is employment racism?

Employment racism is a form of racial discrimination. And, as the name suggests, it specifically covers work-related cases of racism. Logically, your next question would be “when is racism work-related?”. To help you out, we listed examples of employment racism you may face during your career. Check it out to find your answer.


9 Examples of discrimination against race that are work-related

You can come across discrimination against race at any stage of your career, and anywhere. Racism occurs in the recruitment process, as well as on the work floor. Moreover, it can harm you in different aspects of your life, such as financially, or mentally.

These are examples of employment racism you may encounter at different stages of your career:


Racial discrimination examples in recruitment:

  • Looking for a job? You could face racism in recruitment in numerous steps of the job hunt, such as in vacancies;
  • Applying for a job? Someone may see your CV and decide not to hire you due to discrimination against race in selection;
  • Are you in a job interview? Certain interview questions are illegal, such as matters regarding your race;
  • Signing a contract? The terms and conditions could be different as a result of racial discrimination;
  • Planning salary negotiation? Racial bias causes a gap in income on a regular basis, so take that into account when you’re preparing for an interview;


The latter example also valid when your planning a salary negotion at your current job. Other examples of racism at work include:

Racial discrimination examples in the workplace:

  • Did you get a promotion? There’s a possibility that your benefits are different than those of equally qualified colleagues of a different race;
  • Want to participate in training at work? Indirect racism may occur when certain (company-wide) rules exclude you based on your race;
  • Does your employer need to reduce the workforce? Redundancy is a common form of racism at work;
  • Are you fired? Dismissal based on race is illegal.


So, do you want to stand up against racial discrimination? These examples come in handy at any stage of your career.


Discrimination against race: summed up

Treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as their race, is against the law. Discrimination against race can include:

  • Deciding not to hire someone;
  • Selecting someone in particular for redundancy;
  • Paying someone less compared to another person without good reason.


Employment racism could be a direct action aimed at you, but it may very well be caused by certain rules that apply to everyone. The latter is an example of indirect racism. Some cases of discrimination against race are unintentional, whereas, for other cases, there’s definitely bad intent. It’s important to remember, however, that discrimination against race -or any of the protected characteristics, for that matter- doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. What else does the law state on racism at work? Get to know the four types of employment racism here:


Racism at work: these are the official types to remember

Racism at work doesn’t always represent the same set of features. Because of that, identifying complex, yet unlawful cases of employment racism can be challenging.

However, knowing how to identify racism at work and understanding your rights is crucial to ensure you don’t experience inappropriate behaviour and actions. So, before we jump in feet first, let’s go through the basics. These are the four main types of racial discrimination in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010:

  1. Direct racial discrimination
    A one-off, straightforward act of treating someone worse than others because of prejudice and assumptions regarding race.
  2. Indirect racism at work
    When rules or arrangements that apply to everyone are put into place cause an unfair disadvantage to someone because of race.
  3. Harassment
    Unwanted behaviour towards someone because of race that creates an offensive environment, or violates their dignity.
  4. Victimisation
    When someone’s treated unfairly because they (allegedly) took action against any of the above-mentioned types of racism at work.


Do you want to know more about these types of (racial) discrimination? Explore our article on employment discrimination.


Racial discrimination: an example that seems illegal, but isn’t

Legal racism in employment initially sounds like a cheap joke. However, there are some circumstances in which being treated differently due to race is completely okay (and lawful). Before you leave: we know how horrible that sounds, but bear with us.

Go through this example of racial discrimination that may be lawful and make up your mind:

An organisation that supports victims of domestic violence wants to recruit a support worker. One of their requirements is that the applicant has South Asian origins. Now, normally, this would be a classic case of illegal employment racism.

However, if the victims of domestic violence are South Asian, it may be an essential part of the job to belong to a particular race. In this case, it’s labelled as an occupational requirement, which is completely legal.

Now that we’ve got that covered, can you think of an unlawful example of racial discrimination? Take a look at the case below.


Unlawful racial discrimination (with an example)

Sometimes, racial discrimination happens unintentionally. This can be the case when certain rules or working conditions specifically disadvantage a particular group based on race. Let’s look at an example to see if you’d recognise illegal racism in recruitment.

You come across a vacancy for a hairdresser. One of the requirements is to try out different hairstyles together with all colleagues once a month. The job description clearly states that everyone has to join for training purposes. Bonus: this is during work hours.

This is an example of unlawful indirect discrimination against race. Why? Because the requirement puts Muslim women and Sikh men who cover their hair at a disadvantage.

Tackling all forms of employment racism, although hard, is necessary. So, what can you do?


3 Steps to tackle racial discrimination

Even though employment laws protect you against unlawful racial discrimination, it still happens. To change discrimination against race, organisations should actively encourage an open culture of respect and dignity for all employees and applicants, and value differences. But, what can you do to do your bit? And where should you start?

There are several steps you can legally take when you witness or experience employment racism. The very first step is to identify inappropriate behaviour. And, in order to do that, knowing your rights is essential.

  • Step #1:
    Identify inappropriate behaviour with the examples in this article.
  • Step #2:
    Compare people from different race groups, yet equal productivity qualifications
    per category on their outcomes, such as salary and role.
  • Step #3:
    Highlight all differences in outcome between both, such as a gap in benefits or


Do you note any differences that can’t be attributed to someone’s qualifications? Then you might be dealing with a case of racial discrimination.


Recap on employment racism

Now that you’ve read the article on employment racism, you’re left with enough food for thought. Are you ready to tackle racism at work? Or, do you feel slightly overwhelmed and not sure where to start? No worries, you’re on the right track. These are the three most important things to remember:

  1. You are protected against unlawful racial discrimination, regardless of whether it was intentionally;
  2. Employment racism can occur at any stage of your career, from the hiring to firing;
  3. Standing up against racism at work, while necessary, takes courage, but is completely justified.


Are you working for a company where it’s common to discriminate? Then it might be time to leave that toxic environment. Find a new job in a similar field, or start working as a freelancer. Because;

  • to dismiss;
  • to bully;
  • to harras;
  • to comment;
  • or to exclude.


All because of race.





Any more questions? Check out the faqs on this page in which we answer questions about employment racism.

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  • What is an example of indirect racial discrimination at work?
    An example of indirect employment discrimination against race is when a company has a rule that bans headscarves.
  • What is an example of indirect racial discrimination in recruitment?
    An example of indirect employment discrimination against race in recruitment is when the job description in a vacancy includes that all candidates for the job should have UK qualifications.
  • Is racial discrimination the same as religious discrimination?
    No, racial discrimination and religious discrimination are two different protected characteristics. Religious discrimination happens when someone’s treated differently because of a (lack of) belief and religion, and racial discrimination, like the name suggests, is an unfair treatment based on race.
  • What is employment racism?
    Employment racism is a form of racial discrimination. And, as the name suggests, it specifically covers work-related cases of racism. The law protects you against unfair treatment (a.k.a. discrimination) against race.
  • What is racial discrimination?
    Racial discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably for some reason related to race. Racial discrimination is illegal, and it includes: Colour; Nationality; Ethnic origins; National origins; Race.
  • What are the types of discrimination against race?
    The types of discrimination against race are: Direct racial discrimination; Indirect racism at work; Harassment; Victimisation.