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Complaining about discrimination at work if you're an agency worker

This advice applies to Scotland

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve been discriminated against at work, you may be able to take action under the Act.

If you're an agency worker it may be difficult to know who you should complain to. It may be that it's best to approach the company you're placed with or it might be better to talk to the employment agency.

Read this page to find out more about who you should complain to if you're an agency worker.

Before you take action about discrimination at work

Before you take action about discrimination at work, you need to:

  • be reasonably sure that unlawful discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act 2010
  • check that you’re someone who’s protected against discrimination at work under the Equality Act - if you're an agency worker you're someone who's protected against discrimination.
  • check the time limits for making your claim to the employment tribunal - you have three months less one day from when the discrimination happened to make your claim.

Are you an agency worker?

You're an agency worker if all the following things apply to you:

  • there's a contract between you and an agency
  • you're supplied to another employer or end user by the agency
  • when you're working on a job your work is controlled by the end user
  • you're not self-employed.

Complaining about discrimination

You should try to resolve your problem informally first by talking to someone in a position of authority at your place of work or at the agency - for example, your line manager or the human resources department of the company you're placed with. If this doesn't resolve your problem you can make a formal complaint or you may be able to raise a grievance. But if you're an agency worker, the grievance procedure of the end user probably won’t apply to you.

If your problem isn't resolved by making a complaint, you can make a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal.

Who should you complain to?

Deciding whether to make a complaint to the employment agency or the end user depends on a number of things:

  • what kind of discrimination it is - for example, if you're sexually harassed by an employee of the end user, it would probably be better to raise it with the end user. If you need to change your hours of work because you're pregnant, or you have a disability, it might be better to raise it with the agency.
  • if you're discriminated against by another worker from the same agency who's been placed with the same end user, it would be better to raise it with the agency
  • think about who's going to be able to resolve the discrimination you're facing - the agency or the end user?
  • is it the agency which is discriminating against you - for example, by giving you fewer hours because you're pregnant?

Ask the agency for advice or support

If you're experiencing discrimination when placed with an end user, you can ask the agency for support or advice before making a complaint to the end user. In any case, it's best to inform the agency that you're intending to complain, as an agency might be concerned about its relationship with the end user.

However, the agency has a duty to protect you from discrimination and not to aid the end user if it's discriminating against you. The agency would also be discriminating against you if it victimised you, by treating you badly because you had raised a complaint about discrimination. If the agency knowingly helps the end user discriminate against you, they're acting unlawfully under the Equality Act and you could make a discrimination claim against the agency as well as the end user.

Example

You work for a company that packs lettuce for supermarkets. The company finds out that you’re pregnant and tells the agency that they don’t want you to be assigned to them any more, for that reason. The agency agrees to remove you from the assignment and stops offering you work. In this case you could complain to the agency as well as to the supermarket about the discrimination, as the agency has helped the supermarket discriminate against you.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

Acas

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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