Race and discrimination in the workplace – the Brexit effect

news article

Nov 7 2016

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In the wake of the UK’s vote for Brexit earlier this year, the employment landscape has faced a decidedly uncertain outlook, with many international businesses unsure as to what, if anything, will be likely to change. However, in recent weeks the Conservatives have been widely criticised in the face of home secretary Amber Rudd’s proposal to force companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ.

Facing a backlash from many influential business leaders, the proposal has been described as both ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging.’ A petition for major changes to established recruitment and HR practices was not foreseen so soon, especially regarding delicate areas such as immigration and employee law, and many HR managers now feel left with more questions than answers.

However, if new rules are to be forced upon organisations; regardless of size and stature; HR teams need a robust, transparent, fair and consistent way of reporting on employee’s citizenship, immigration status and nationality.

Greater visibility is evidently vital in the world of industry and commerce, with calls for organisations to be more open about the race and class of people they employ to ensure big business is not a segregated, elitist landscape.

What current legislation should HR be aware of?

Whilst it still remains to be seen if this proposal is likely to come into effect any time soon, it would be wise for HR professionals to keep abreast and informed of all current legislation on race and discrimination in the workplace. Ensuring that your business is compliant with existing employment law will enable you to remain resilient in the face of any major changes to come.

The Equality Act 2010 – Key Points

The Equality Act 2010 has made it unlawful to discriminate against employees based upon their colour, nationality and ethnic origin. There are four main types of race discrimination:

Direct Discrimination

This can be broken down into three key areas, demonstrating where an employee has been treated ‘less favourably’ because of:

  • Their race (direct discrimination)
  • Their perceived race (direct discrimination by perception)
  • The race of someone they associate with (direct discrimination by association)

Indirect Discrimination

This can occur when there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule which applies to all, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular race.

For example, a requirement for all potential applicants to hold a minimum GCSE qualification in Maths and English could discriminate against candidates from outside the UK who do not have GCSE’s, unless the employer has specified equivalent qualifications.


Harassment can occur when unwanted conduct related to race has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity, or else creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.


This refers to any unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about race discrimination. Employers should ensure that they have policies in place to prevent race discrimination in any areas, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Pay, and terms and conditions of employment
  • Training and development
  • Selection for promotion
  • Discipline and grievances
  • Countering bullying and harassment
  • Employee dismissal

Alongside consideration for the Equality Act 2010, there are further areas that HR managers and teams could keep in mind to ensure a happy, positive workforce:

Managing cultural differences

Employers and employees alike should be mindful of the cultural differences that can stem from a diverse workforce, particularly those such as customs and values. Maintain a sensitive and respectful attitude towards differences, and try to avoid racial stereotyping and unacceptable terminology and ‘jokes.’

Managing staff from abroad

Employers must ensure that all employees are checked for their right to work in the UK, and all necessary paperwork is correct and up to date. This should be a mandatory process that every new employee must go through, and not just those from abroad. British citizens are usually required to provide a passport and NI number to all new employers upon commencement of employment.

Ethnic and national origins and religion

Companies should also be mindful that some ethnic and national groups have devout religious beliefs, and not just those from other countries. For example, within the UK, there are huge differences between those that identify as Sikhs, Muslims or Buddhists. It is unlawful to discriminate between those who hold religious beliefs, or equally those who do not have any religious beliefs at all.

Let technology take the administrative burden!

HR and payroll teams are facing increased pressures to become more strategic, drive employment compliance within their businesses, and fuel engagement and job satisfaction among staff. Add in the importance of remaining up to date and compliant with current race and discrimination legislation, and you could be facing at an equality minefield.

Investing in the right intuitive and easy-to-use technology could prove crucial to managing this successfully. HR software, such as Cascade, can aid the tracking and measuring of staff origin and status. Reporting tools are available to manage and understand complex data, identify trends, measure cost-derivatives and plan future actions in a few simple clicks. You can also combine reporting features with workflow, allowing you to kick-start best practice processes as a result of clever reporting. For a demo, call us today on 0113 230 8600, or click here for more information.


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