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Race discrimination in the workplace

The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of certain so-called protected characteristics, including age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and pregnancy or maternity. The law applies to all employers, regardless of the size of their organisation and regardless of the sector. There are certain limited exemptions, such as the case of a church employing a minister, employment programmes targeted at particular ethnic minorities, and so on.A recent case against Virgin Atlantic highlights that it is also unlawful for an employer to treat employees differently on the basis of a mistaken assumption about a protected characteristic – for example, if they assume that the appearance of a person implies they are a member of a particular ethnic group or religion.
Max Kpakio, a Liberian refugee who now lives in Swansea, was initially rejected for a job at the company’s call centre. When he re-applied using a more western-sounding name, Craig Owen, he was invited for further interview. He claimed this was evidence of racial discrimination.Kpakio’s case was thrown out by the employment tribunal after it was demonstrated that the second application was completely different. Rather than simply changing his name, the application had been tailored to the job in question. Nevertheless, this underlines the importance of employers knowing the law around racial discrimination and being prepared and equipped to defend their employment policy. In discrimination cases, the employer bears the burden of proof. If an allegation is made, the employer must be able to prove that they did not discriminate in the way that is being accused.Are you concerned about workplace discrimination? Talk to us. We are experienced employment law specialists and can give you the expert help you need. Call 01302 320621 or email

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