The law on race discrimination at work

What is the law that governs discrimination on grounds of a person’s race in the workplace?

The law relating to discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of a person’s race is contained in the Race Relations Act 1976. 

On 8 April 2010 the Equalities Act 2010 was passed. However, to enable people and organisations affected by the new laws time to prepare, only a few provisions of the Equalities Act 2010 came into force that day. It is currently envisaged that most of the main provisions of the Act will come into force in October 2010, although since there has been a change of government since the Act was passed this is currently not clear. 

When the Equalities Act 2010 does come into force the Race Relations Act 1976 will be repealed in its entirety.

What acts are prohibited by the Race Relations Act 1976?

Discrimination by employers

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful to discriminate against another as an applicant for employment or as an employee

Harassment by employers

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful for an employer to subject to harassment an employee or a person who has applied to him for employment.

Discrimination by principals

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful for a principal to discriminate in a manner specified by the Act against an individual who is employed not by the principal himself but by another person, who supplies the individual under a contract made with the principal.

Discrimination against persons receiving training 

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful, in the case of an individual seeking or undergoing training which would help him gain employment, for any person who provides, or makes arrangements for the provision of or facilities for such training to discriminate against him in a manner specified by the Act.

Discrimination and harassment by employment agencies 

Under the Race Relations Act 1976 it is unlawful for an employment agency to discriminate against a person in a manner specified by the Act, or to subject to harassment a person to whom it provides such services or who requests the provision of such services.

Other

It is also unlawful, under the Race Relations Act 1976 for a person to induce, or attempt to induce, a person to do one of the above acts. 

It is also unlawful for a person who has authority over another person or in accordance with whose wishes that other person is accustomed to act, to instruct him to do any act which is unlawful or procure or attempt to procure the doing by him of any such act. 

Where a person knowingly aids another person to do an act made unlawful by the Race Relations Act 1976 they are treated as having done the unlawful act themselves.

Are all discriminatory acts prohibited?

The Race Relations Act 1976 provides the following exceptions:

Genuine occupational requirements

The Act does not prevent discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic or national origins where there is a genuine occupational requirement, for example where a black actor is needed for a film or a television programme.

Employment in a private household

The Act does not apply to employment for the purposes of a private household, except in relation to discrimination by way of victimisation or discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic or national origins.

Certain benefits, facilities and services provided by an employer

The Act does not apply to certain benefits, facilities or services if the employer is concerned with the provision, whether for payment of not, of benefits, facilities or services of that description to the public, or to a section of the public comprising the employee in question.

Certain training

The Race Relations Act 1976 does not apply to employment intended to provide training in skills to be exercised outside Great Britain.

Seamen recruited abroad

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes an exception in the case of seamen recruited abroad.

Acts which are permitted by other legislation

The Race Relations Act 1976 does not render unlawful any acts which are specifically permitted by other legislation.

National security

The Act does not render unlawful any acts done for the purpose of safeguarding national security, if the doing of any such act was justified.