D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: Racism in the workplace

The TUC recently published a report on racism and inequality in the workplace, finding that two in five people have experienced racism at work in the past five years. In most cases, respondents reported that they had experienced racism from peers but one in six reported racism by a manager. The TUC report highlights that racism is still prevalent in the workplace, and below we consider how employers can reduce instances of workplace discrimination and promote equality and inclusivity.

Equality and anti-harassment policies

Establishing comprehensive policies demonstrate that an employer values equality and diversity and is willing to take proactive steps to reduce instances of discrimination.

Equality and anti-harassment policies should be publicised as widely as possible and should cover all staff, not just employees. The policies should also set out a clear procedure detailing how staff can report any instances of discrimination and how complaints will be investigated.


Employers should provide regular training on equality issues to ensure that staff understand their rights, duties and obligations. It is good practice for such training to form part of an induction process for new employees so that new joiners are clear about the behaviours expected in the workplace from the outset.

Employers should keep records of which employees have received training and should provide regular sessions throughout an individual’s employment to keep knowledge refreshed.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious biases are influenced by background, culture and personal experiences and affect every day behaviours and decision-making. Training can increase awareness about how unconscious biases may affect certain groups of individuals, encourage behavioural changes and reduce bias within the workplace.

Role of managers

Managers play a vital role in maintaining appropriate standards of behaviour and creating an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting concerns. Managers should be trained on how to deal with employee disclosures appropriately to ensure that victims of discrimination are not subjected to detriment or victimisation.

Encouraging open reporting

Employers should aim to promote an open culture where victims and witnesses of discriminatory behaviour feel supported enough to report it. This could be achieved by providing assurances that any disclosures will be kept confidential unless the employee agrees otherwise.

Employees should also be encouraged to openly discuss any needs or requirements arising from a protected characteristic.

Taking appropriate action

Employers must show that they take complaints of discrimination and harassment seriously by taking appropriate action where necessary. This includes fully investigating complaints raised and taking measures to address discriminatory behaviour.

“Reasonable steps” defence

An employer who follows the above steps may have a possible defence to a discrimination claim in relation to alleged discriminatory acts of its employees. To run a “reasonable steps” defence, an employer needs to show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent its employees from committing discriminatory acts, before the alleged discriminatory acts occurred.

For further information in relation to the above, please contact a member of our Employment Team.

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