Guide: Disciplinaries


Race discrimination

What is race discrimination?

The Race Relations Act 1976 and its subsequent amendment make it unlawful to discriminate against a person, directly orindirectly,  areas including:-

  •     employment and training
  •     education
  •     the provision of goods and services, for example, financial matters,  entertainment and transport
  •     housing
  •     any of the activities carried out by public authorities, such as government departments, local authorities, the policeand prisons.

Legally, race discrimination can be 'direct' or 'indirect', or can take the form of harassment or victimisation.


What is direct discrimination?

It is direct race discrimination to treat a person less favourably on racial grounds than another person would be treated inthe same circumstances. As well as words or acts of refusal, direct discrimination includes words or acts of discouragement.

The test for establishing direct discrimination, laid down in R v Birmingham CC ex p EOC [1989] and confirmed in James v Eastleigh BC [1990] is:-

  • * was there an act of discrimination?
  • * but for the applicant's sex, disability or race, would he or she have treated differently (more favourably).

What is indirect discrimination?

It is indirect race discrimination to set conditions or requirements for a person to meet which may seem to apply to everyone, but may place people of a particular racial, ethnic or national group at an unfair disadvantage.

There may have been indirect discrimination if:-

  •     people of a particular racial, ethnic or national group are less likely to be able to meet it; and
  •      as a result, people who cannot meet it are placed at a disadvantage or would be placed at a disadvantage; and
  •      it cannot be justified by the person or institution setting it.

There may be indirect discrimination if members of one or more racial, ethnic or national group are less likely to meet itthan others. An example would be if an employer insists that candidates for a job should speak faultless English when this isclearly not needed for the type of work. Further examples are banning the wearing of headscarves or insisting on the wearingof skirts at work or school, or an employer insisting that a person has qualifications obtained only in the UK.


What is harassment?

Harassment occurs when someone is subjected to behaviour that has violated their dignity or damaged their envrionment because

of their race or ethnic origin.

A single act of a serious nature will support a claim of harassment. Even a single verbal comment, if sufficiently seriousmay amount to harassment (In Situ Cleaning v Heads [1995].


What is victimisation?

You will have suffered victimisation if you are treated less favourably because you have complained, brought proceedings orasserted your rights under race discrimination laws. This also includes a person who has assisted or supported you in doingthis, for example, by giving evidence as a witness in a case of race discrimination.

‘Racial grounds’ include:-

  •     colour
  •     race
  •     nationality
  •     ethnic or national origins.


What is meant by 'ethnic origins'?

Legal discrimination cases have made it clear whether certain groups of people can be counted as belonging to an ethnic group. For example, Jews, Romany gypsies, members of the Irish traveller community, and Sikhs were found to be ethnic groups.

Rastafarians were not found to be members of an ethnic group. However, it is illegal to discriminate against you if you are a Rastafarian, because of your religion.

The test for determining racial group within s3 of the RRA 1976 was provided in Mandla v Dowell Lee [1983]. In this case thewords 'ethnic origin' were held to mean a distinct and separate community by reason of various characteristics including:culture; language; history; descent; and any racial characteristics. 'National origins' are ascertained as identifiableelements, both historically and geographically, which reveal the existence of a nation.

It is not necessary for you to belong to one of these groups for discrimination to take place. Someone may discriminateagainst you because they believe you belong to a different racial group. There might also be transfered discrimination.

What is transfered discrimination?

Discrimination may take place when a person is treated less favourably becauxe of another person's race. For example Owens,who was white, was dismissed for failing to obey an order to exclude black people (Showboat Entertainment Centre Ltd v Owens [1984].

Public authorities have a legal duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to actively promote equality.

If you are taking action over race discrimination, you do not have to demonstrate that there was an intention to discriminateagainst you. It is only necessary to show that discrimination took place.

You do not have to demonstrate that racial grounds were the only reason for the discrimination you experienced. It is enoughto show that racial grounds played a substantial part in the discrimination.

Is all discrimination on grounds of race illegal?

No. The law on race discrimination says there are some situations where race discrimination is permitted.


If certain conditions or requirements in employment can be shown to be a ‘genuine occupational qualification’ they may not bediscriminatory. For example, it may be justified for the owner of a Chinese or a Greek restaurant to ask for a Chinese or aGreek waiter because the restaurant setting requires this. It is justifiable for a hostel for Asian women who have sufferedviolence to specify that it wants only Asian women workers on the grounds that the women would find it easier to relate toand communicate with people of the same racial group.

Race discrimination is not unlawful if the job involves working for a private household, working abroad for most of the timeor when, with regard to certain jobs, the Crown is the employer.

Goods, facilities and services

Clubs, associations and charities set up especially for people of a particular ethnic or national group are allowed to discriminate on the basis of nationality or ethnic or national origin but not on the grounds of colour.


Owner-occupiers who are selling or letting their property can lawfully discriminate on the grounds of race if they do notadvertise or use an estate agent. So can people who are renting out a ‘small premises’, if the landlord or a member of theirfamily have to share facilities with the tenants or prospective tenants.

If you are a Solidarity member and feel you are being racially discriminated against at work contact us. There are many ways we can seek to help you.