You’ve been discriminated against at work, what now?


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This article contains general observations and my own experiences only. It isn’t legal advice. I’m not trained or insured to offer this, if you need legal advice, please seek out a lawyer.

Discrimination can come in many forms. It can be:

  • direct: where you’re discriminated against because of a protected characteristic;
  • indirect: where a process or practice that applies to everyone puts a particular protected characteristic at a disadvantage, such as refusing flexible work patterns for parents or for religious holidays;
  • harassment: unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic, such as jokes and innuendos, making personal remarks and exclusion from social events; or
  • victimisation: where an employee is seen as detrimental because they’ve done (or are believed to have done) a ‘protected act’, such as bringing proceedings or giving evidence in proceedings under the Equality Act.

So, if you experience discrimination at work, what are the options available to you?

Simply leave

“Dear Boss, here’s my notice. Bye!”

It’s a nuclear option, but it’s an option. You deserve to feel safe at work and with your colleagues. You don’t deserve to be targeted for something that you can’t change or something personal.

That said, this may not be an option for everyone, particularly if your financial situation isn’t suited in this current economic climate.

Stay and resolve it

I personally wouldn’t because, to me, once something like this has happened my trust in a workplace or person has been broken, and that trust is gone forever. But that’s just me.

It may be entirely possible for the issue to be resolved and for you to continue to work at your workplace. Consider the below.

Can you resolve it informally?

Usually, the first step is to raise an issue informally with either your line manager, HR manager or another designated person. This involves hearing the details of who was involved, what happened, and where and when it happened, including considering the evidence presented by you and then by the accused. 

The result here could be a verbal warning, mandatory awareness training sessions, or even dismissal the incident is severe enough.

Formal grievance process

If you’re unhappy with how your informal complaint has been dealt with then escalating to a formal grievance is the next step to make your employer formally aware of a serious issue.

You’ll need evidence for any hearing panel to support your claim that the discrimination happened, otherwise it becomes “their word against yours” and the grievance will be rejected.

There’s also an appeals process if you believe the outcome is incorrect. For example, if the procedure wasn’t followed in a fair way or if the outcome also contains further discriminatory comments in response to your grievance (it happens, trust me, it did to me!).

Instruct lawyers

This is for when you’ve exhausted all internal avenues and you’re still unsatisfied with the outcome and appeal. It’s the final straw option.

Employment lawyers can assist you with services, including settlement agreements or Employment Tribunal representation. If you decide to bring a claim to the tribunal, you only have three months (less one day) from the date of the last discriminatory act to lodge your intention, via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to make a claim. But with discrimination, you don’t need to have the minimum two-year period of service to make a claim.

Be aware that there are fees for legal services and representation, in addition to those for your claim to be heard at the tribunal.

But all of the above doesn’t begin to consider how it feels to receive this kind of treatment. And take it from someone who’s experienced it himself several times over – it sucks!

So, what else should you do and think about?

Check in with yourself

If it feels personal, that’s because it is. You’re being targeted for unfair treatment because of a protected characteristic that’s part of who you are. So how can it not be personal?

Remember that the person at fault is the perpetrator, not you. One perpetrator of mine attempted to gaslight me into believing that I made the choice to feel discriminated against because “I was in an emotive state”. That’s victim blaming, clear as day, and I wasn’t having any of it. 

Try to look after yourself following the event and do what you need to do to feel better and heal. You could:

  • see family and friends;
  • consider therapy;
  • start a new hobby;
  • make time for your interests;
  • exercise; or
  • travel somewhere.

This list isn’t exhaustive and the bottom line is to do whatever makes you feel better!

What do you want to achieve?

Do you want to just get out and away from your workplace? Or do you want to challenge it? Unfortunately, challenging it will be difficult as you’ll be expected to relive the traumatic event, whether that’s internally or in front of the tribunal.

This, alongside the high costs of instructing lawyers or having your claim heard by the tribunal could be considered as reasons to not seek a long-term remedy.

Also, consider whether you think it’s worth it. Do you believe the perpetrator will change or show remorse? Or do you believe they’ll just nod their head and carry on as if nothing has happened? If it’s the latter, then is it worth spending all that time, effort and money?

To anyone reading this, if this has happened to you, I’m so incredibly sorry that it has. It simply shouldn’t happen. Nobody should ever be attacked or targeted simply because of who they are.

Remember that it’s never your fault and there are always options available to you. And don’t forget to look after yourself too.


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