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Before you take action about discrimination at work

This advice applies to England

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve been discriminated against at work, you may be able to take action against your employer under the Act.

Read this page to find out about things you should think about before taking action against your employer.

Time limits

If you’ve been discriminated against at work, or when applying for a job, it’s always best to act as quickly as possible. This is because if you want to take your complaint to the employment tribunal, you need to make your claim within 3 months of the discrimination happening, even if you're trying to resolve the problem informally first.

Are you someone who's protected against discrimination at work?

If you want to take action about discrimination, you need to be someone who's protected against discrimination at work under the Equality Act. If you're a job applicant, an agency worker or an employee within the meaning of the Act, you're someone who's protected against discrimination.

Have you been discriminated against?

Before you take action about discrimination, you need to be reasonably sure unlawful discrimination has taken place according to the Equality Act.

If the treatment doesn’t count as discrimination under the law, you may still have been treated badly or unfairly and you may be able to do something about that. You have other rights under employment law or under your contract and you can take action against your employer if they breach these rights.

Think about what happened

If you think you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination and you want to take action about it, you’ll need to establish the facts of your case. This will help you decide whether unlawful discrimination has taken place and also support your case when you take action.

Thinking about the following things will help you establish the facts of your case:

  • the details of the employer who may have discriminated against you
  • what exactly happened?
  • when and where did it happen?
  • who was involved and what’s their relationship to you - for example, your line manager or a colleague?
  • did anyone see it happen - are there any witnesses?
  • what were the circumstances around each incident? Investigating these circumstances may show that factors other than discrimination were involved.
  • what disadvantage or harm did you suffer?
  • do you have any specific examples of unfair treatment? It’s important if you want to bring a discrimination claim that you have some specific examples of unfair treatment.
  • why do you think you were treated unfairly in each of these situations?
  • have you experienced or complained about discrimination before?

Work out what outcome you want

When deciding what action to take about discrimination at work, you’ll need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. You'll also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

If you take your case to the employment tribunal, you may have to wait a long time before your case is heard by the tribunal. Sometimes you may have to wait 6 to 12 months from when you make your claim.

You may want:

  • the discrimination against you to stop or an apology from your employer
  • to be reinstated or re-engaged
  • your employer to look again at a decision they’ve already taken
  • a change in your employer’s policies
  • staff training in discrimination issues
  • compensation for financial loss or for injury to feelings or stress.

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. But you need to make sure you don’t run out of time in case you want to make a claim to the employment tribunal.

What can you get from an employment tribunal ?

If your claim for discrimination is successful, the employment tribunal can order the employer to pay you compensation if you’ve suffered financial loss or injury to feelings, including stress.

It can also make a recommendation to the employer to do something - for example, to review their equal opportunities policy or to allow you to return to work part-time after your maternity leave. The employer doesn’t have to comply with the recommendation, but if they don’t you may get more compensation.

Other things you should do

You should keep all your correspondence and other documentation which relates to the incidents. Try to think if there are any documents you’ve lost which may be important and make a list of these documents.

Look at your employer’s policies which are relevant to your complaint - for example, an equal opportunities policy, bullying and harassment policy or a sickness policy. Check your contract or staff handbook to see what it says about your situation.

It may also be a good idea to try and find out if other colleagues have experienced similar discrimination. If this is the case you may be able to take group action.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.


Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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