Does my race or religion affect my employment?
The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 replaced the previous 1976 Race Relations Act and prohibit discrimination, harassment and victimisation on grounds of religion or belief in all areas of employment and vocational training.
The term ‘religion or belief' is defined in the regulations as ‘any religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief'. However, this does not include philosophical or political beliefs, so single-issue campaigners, such as anti-abortion campaigners are not covered.
In brief, all areas of employment, including the recruitment process, the workplace, dismissal and, in certain circumstances, post employment situations. The rules apply to how jobs are advertised, terms and conditions of employment contracts, pay, promotion, transfers and training.
There are exceptions, and discrimination is allowed in some areas. For example, where there is a genuine reason for an employee to be of a particular religious belief, like a priest or perhaps a teacher in a religious school.
Bear in mind that it's never in a company's interest to get involved in a racial or religious discrimination case. Employers don't want to be labelled as bigoted. It's understood today that a cultural mix in the workplace enriches the corporate culture and presents a good public image. Your employer's default position should be one of neutrality – not denying you opportunities based on race or getting involved in positive discrimination by promoting a minority employee to meet a quota.
What is classed as discrimination?
Of course, any situation where you are harassed in an abusive or degrading way on the basis of your ethnicity or beliefs is absolutely forbidden.
Discrimination can be direct, where you're overlooked for a certain role or denied a promotion opportunity based purely on your race or religion, or indirect, for instance if all employees are asked to wear an item of clothing that conflicts with your religions beliefs.
You may also discover that other people on your level or pay scale are enjoying perks that you have not been offered, or are being invited to key social or networking events when you aren't. Keep an eye on what's happening around you, and stay aware of whether these things could be in breach of the rules.
If you're victimised and receiving less favourable treatment than your peers because you have complained or supported a complaint about racial or religious discrimination, you have a rightful grievance to follow up.
What to do if you feel you've been discriminated against
Always look to address the issue with your boss first and try to resolve it through your company's equal opportunities policy. They are required by law to have one. If this is unsuccessful or if your complaint is either not recognised or dismissed out of hand by your employer, you can resort to an Employment Tribunal or the County Court.
The good thing about the legal position is that it is now up to your employer to prove you were not discriminated against, not for you to prove the discrimination. On the other hand, your employer may be able to deploy considerable legal resources against you. So, think hard about your chances and the strength of your case before going down this route.