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Race discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation for the protected characteristic of 'race'.

Key points

  • ‘Race’ is defined as including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, or being a person of a particular racial group.
  • Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated, or would be treated, less favourably ‘because of’ race compared with others in like-for-like circumstances.
  • Indirect race discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) puts an individual of a particular race at a particular disadvantage compared with people of a different race. An employer may be able to justify the PCP as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  • An occupational requirement, where the nature or context of the work require a person to be of a particular race, can be a lawful exception to direct and indirect discrimination. 
  • Harassment occurs where unwanted conduct related to race violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
  • Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment for carrying out a ‘protected act’ (for example, bringing a discrimination claim). 
  • Employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees ‘in the course of employment’.

Recent developments

New Code established to tackle hair-based discrimination

The movement Halo Collective, who are dedicated to tackling race-based discrimination, have produced the Halo Code, specifically designed to tackle hair-based discrimination. This follows research from the group, which found that one in five black women are pressured to straighten their hair.

The Halo Code provides best practice guidance for avoiding this, which is voluntary for organisations to sign up to. Those who do sign up to the code pledge to do the following:

  • champion the rights of staff to embrace Afro-hairstles and textured hair 
  • acknowledge that Afro-textured hair is an important part of racial, ethnic, cultural and religious identity 
  • celebrate the right for employees to wear their hair in all styles
  • recognise that hair texture and style have no bearing on an employee’s ability to succeed.
Caste discrimination - Government response

The Government has responded to its consultation on caste discrimination. The consultation asked stakeholders whether 'caste' should be specifically added to the Equality Act 2010 as an aspect of race in order to provide protection against discrimination, or whether existing case law should be relied upon. The Government has chosen to take a light touch approach and has confirmed it will afford protection by relying on existing case law, most notably the case of Tirkey v Chandok which you can read more on in our Case Law section. No amendments will therefore be made to the Equality Act 2010.

Race discrimination in light of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak

In light of the outbreak, many staff from China or other affected areas may be subjected to bullying as a result. It is important to remind staff that any form of discrimination in the workplace, regardless of the reason, will not be tolerated. Employees who are being subjected to this form of treatment should be advised to come forward and all complaints should be investigated and responded to in line with company policy.