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Complaining about discrimination at work

This advice applies to England

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 against your employer under the Act.

It’s best to try and resolve your problem by talking to your employer first. If this doesn’t help you can make a formal complaint or raise a grievance.

Read this page to find out about complaining to your employer about unlawful discrimination.

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 a job applicant, an agency worker or an employee within the meaning of the Act, you're someone who's protected against discrimination.
  • check the time limits for making your claim in the employment tribunal - you have 3 months less one day from when the discrimination happened to make your claim.

Complaining informally about discrimination

You may be able to resolve your problem by talking to your line manager about it or to someone else in a position of authority within the organisation. For example, if the organisation has a human resources department, you could speak to them.

It's often a good idea to mention the discrimination in writing as well. This could be by letter or even a short email. If you’re later victimised by your employer for complaining about discrimination, you will have a written record showing that you made the complaint.

If the discrimination is by another employee you should write to the employer to inform them of the situation. This is because your employer is generally responsible for discrimination by their employees and for protecting you from it.

Negotiating with your employer

You can try negotiating with your employer to resolve your problem. You can contact an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - to help you with this.

It may still be worth negotiating with your employer even if you don’t work for them anymore as this may avoid you having to take legal action.

If the time limit for making your claim to the employment tribunal is close, you may not have time to resolve your problem informally first. In this case you may be able to negotiate at the same time as taking legal action.

Mediation or conciliation may also help you reach an agreement with your employer.

Contact the union representative

If you’re a union member you can contact your union representative if there is one or seek help from the appropriate union office if there isn't. They can help you negotiate with your employer or they may be able to bring pressure on the employer to stop the discrimination.

Complaining formally about discrimination

If you haven't been able to resolve your problem by talking to your employer you should make a written complaint to your employer or raise a grievance, explaining your discrimination complaint.

If you want to raise a grievance, you need to follow your employer’s grievance procedure. Both you and your employer should also follow the grievance procedure set out in a code produced by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). This is called the code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

If you’re an agency worker

If you're an agency worker, it can be difficult to know who you should complain to. Generally speaking, this will depend on who's discriminated against you and where the discrimination happened.

If you’ve been disciplined or dismissed

If you've been dismissed, or your employer starts formal disciplinary action against you, they should follow the disciplinary procedure set out in the Acas code on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

You should be given the chance to defend yourself in a meeting, and to appeal their decision. If you can, you should appeal in writing and explain why you don't agree with your employer's decision and why you think you’ve been discriminated against.

You may have been discriminated against in the circumstances that have led to your being disciplined or dismissed or it may be in separate circumstances. If your complaint is about discrimination that's separate from the issues relating to your being disciplined or dismissed, your employer could choose to treat the two things separately or together. If they’re dealt with together, it’s important to be clear about the fact that there are two separate sets of issues.

Victimisation

If you take action about discrimination at work and your employer treats you badly as a result, it’s unlawful victimisation under the Equality Act. If you’re victimised you can bring a further claim based on that treatment in the employment tribunal.

Reporting the employer to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

In some situations, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) may be able to help with your discrimination complaint. They don’t normally take on individual cases. However, they can do so if it would be of wider public interest and it's referred to them by an advice agency. They could also launch an official inquiry and formal investigation if the problem seems to be widespread.

In particular, the EHRC has power to bring proceedings if an employer :

  • has told someone else, or issued an instruction, to discriminate
  • is using a discriminatory job advertisement
  • asks unlawful questions about your health or disability before offering you a job.

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 at

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an adviser about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

You can find useful information about how to sort out work-place problems on the Acas website at

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