Taking action about discrimination at work

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

You can take action by: 

  • making an informal complaint - you should try to resolve the problem by doing this first

  • making a formal complaint called a ‘grievance’

  • going to a tribunal

You should decide which approach is best for your situation before you start to take action.

The best approach will be based on things like the type of problem, the amount of time since the problem happened and the outcome you want.

Before you take action

If you haven't already checked, make sure your problem is covered by the Equality Act - check if your problem is discrimination.

If you haven’t already, start gathering evidence to back up your complaint.

Think about getting help before you complain.

Work out compensation

It’s a good idea to work out how much compensation your case might be worth

This will help in 2 situations:

  • if you want to ask for compensation, for example as part of taking legal action

  • if your employer offers you money in exchange for you agreeing to stop your complaint - this is called settling

Making an informal complaint

Before you make your informal complaint, check again that it’s the best approach for you. It will usually be worth doing if:

  • you need a quick decision from your employer

  • the discrimination is not affecting you badly at the moment

  • you’re worried about how your employer might react to a more formal complaint

To make an informal complaint, talk to someone at work you think can help. Your employer might have a policy that tells you who to complain to - it’s usually your line manager, but you can talk to someone else if your complaint is about the person you are supposed to talk to.

Make sure you feel clear about what you want to say - write notes if you’re worried you might forget something.

You could arrange a meeting so you won’t be disturbed.

You can ask if someone can go to the meeting with you for support or to take notes. This could be a colleague or your union representative. Your employer doesn’t have to agree to this.

You might need someone to come to the meeting for a particular reason - for example, because of a disability or for language reasons. Explain why to your employer. If they say no, this could be more discrimination.

At the meeting, tell your employer:

  • what happened and why you think it's discrimination

  • any evidence you have, for example an intimidating email from your manager

  • how you'd like the problem to be solved

Keep a note of what happens at the meeting - especially if your employer agrees to do something. Make sure they set a date for doing it so that you can chase them if necessary.

Your employer will probably take notes too. Ask for a copy of them to check what you agreed.

These notes will help if you have to take the matter further. For example, you’ll be able to use them as evidence if you raise a grievance or go to a tribunal.

If they didn't take notes or won’t share their notes with you, you should write to them saying what was agreed in the meeting. You should ask them to confirm in writing that they agree with your notes.

If you haven't heard from your employer after a couple of weeks, send a follow-up email or letter.

It might be best to raise a grievance if you're not getting anywhere with your informal complaint. If complaining or raising a grievance is taking a long time, and you’re getting close to the deadline, you can contact Acas before you’ve finished talking to your employer.

Raising a grievance

Find out more about raising a grievance and appealing a grievance outcome in our in-depth materials on discrimination at work.

Find out more about what to expect when you attend a grievance meeting.

Challenging discrimination at an employment tribunal

If complaining to your employer doesn’t solve the problem or you’re close to the time limit for bringing a claim, you should consider taking legal action at an employment tribunal.

Contact ACAS for early conciliation

The first step is to contact Acas within 3 months less one day of the discrimination. They can help you try to solve the problem with your employer - this is called ‘early conciliation’. 

If Acas can’t help you get an agreement (or you don’t want them to try) they’ll give you a certificate which will allow you to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You'll have a new deadline for going to tribunal once you get this certificate - make sure you work out when this is.

Find out how early conciliation works.

More help with your employment tribunal claim

You can use our in-depth materials on discrimination at work to help you with your employment tribunal claim.

Negotiating and settling your discrimination claim

Making a late claim about discrimination in the employment tribunal

Adviser tool - getting the facts: first steps in gathering and organising evidence 

Assessing the merits of a discrimination claim and using a case plan 

Adviser tool: Analysing your client’s discrimination problem 

Proving a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal 

Starting a discrimination claim: completing the ET1 

ET3, case management and preliminary hearings 

Getting medical evidence about discrimination 

Preparing evidence for an employment tribunal 

Witness evidence in the employment tribunal 

At the employment tribunal hearing and beyond 

Page last reviewed on 28 January 2019