Discrimination at Work: How Common is It?

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Being mistreated by your employer may be considered unlawful discrimination if it is based on the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Although existing regulations help protect employees from workplace discrimination, employers should take active measures to prevent and stop it from happening. Prioritising good relationships within the workplace contribute significantly to employee satisfaction and fulfilment – which increases commitment and positive attitudes among employees.

It is undeniable that making sure discrimination in the workplace does not benefit both employees and employers. However, even with regulations set by the UK government, there are still reports of discrimination at work.

What Does Workplace Discrimination at Work Look Like?

Unlawful discrimination is when an employee is treated unfairly or unfavourably due to any of these protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination at the workplace due to these characteristics include:

  • Direct Discrimination

When an employee is treated less favourably by their employer compared to others

  • Indirect Discrimination

When rules or working conditions place disadvantages for a group of people more than others

  • Harassment

When an employee experiences offensive or intimidating behaviour

  • Victimisation

Being treated differently or less favourably due to complaining or reporting discrimination

  • Unfair Treatment Due to Other Reasons

Being treated unfairly for any other reason – such as bullying

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The UK government has taken a proactive measure to prevent discrimination by legally protecting discrimination for these aspects at work:

  • Dismissal
  • Employment terms and conditions
  • Pay and benefits
  • Promotion and transfer opportunities
  • Training
  • Recruitment
  • Redundancy

How Common is it in the UK?

Existing measures have been taken to eliminate and prevent discrimination in the workplace, but many cases are still reported. In 2021, CIPHR released a report on workplace discrimination that shows that this is still an ongoing issue.

It has been reported that 36% or over a third of UK adults have admitted to having experienced discrimination in the workplace, alongside 34% of respondents reporting that they have been turned down from a role due to discrimination. These cases range from varying factors and work functions.

Although workplace discrimination may lead to employment tribunals in efforts to solve them, in 2018 only 26% of discrimination cases went to a full tribunal hearing. The data further shows that discrimination cases were more likely to be settled or dismissed/withdrawn.

What Are The Most Common Factors of Discrimination?

The most common factor for workplace discrimination that was reported was age – with 11% saying that their age is a discriminating factor at work and 5.7% admitting that they have suffered discrimination due to their age in their workplace.

Gender comes as the second most common discriminative factor, with 5.3% of employees reporting that they have been discriminated against due to their gender and 4.7% having been refused a role due to gender.

Which Industries Experience the Most Discrimination?

The survey further noted that workers in HR are the ones who are reported to have experienced discrimination the most, with 79% stating that they have been discriminated against either at work or when applying for a job.

The IT and Telecommunications industry experiences the second most discrimination, with 60% of respondents having reported workplace discrimination of any kind.

The third industry with the most discrimination reported is the legal sector, with 59% of people reporting workplace discrimination during their careers.

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The substantial numbers reported show that workplace discrimination is still a relevant issue in the UK. Employers should be responsible for implementing measures to prevent and eliminate workplace discrimination. In a time period where it is common for people to prioritise their happiness in the workplace, a focus for employers to ensure and maintain healthy working conditions and good relations at work is necessary.


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