An investigation by the Resolution Foundation think tank into workplace discrimination has found that 20 per cent of those surveyed had experienced some form of discrimination last year, either at work or when applying for a job.

Entitled “Policing prejudice. Enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the workplace”, the report found that the most common forms of labour market discrimination were being turned down for a job (reported by almost 13 per cent of respondents); being turned down for a promotion (reported by eight per cent); or being denied training opportunities because of a protected characteristic (reported by seven per cent).

It found that some groups experienced more discrimination than others. Over one fifth (21 per cent) of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, for example, said they had faced workplace discrimination on the ground of their ethnicity, while 15 per cent of disabled people felt they had been discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Disabled people also reported being discriminated against on other grounds, such as ethnicity, age and sex.

The report is particularly critical of the options open to workers who have experienced discrimination and want to seek redress. Although they can consider bringing a tribunal claim, the report points out that the system favours higher earners. In 2017, for example, workers earning £40,000 or over were almost twice as likely to take their employer to court as those earning under £20,000, despite the lowest earners being twice as likely to report anxiety about discrimination.

The report recommends that changes should be made to the tribunal system by the government so that it can become more accessible to workers by:

  • Providing more financial help (especially for low-paid workers)
  • Allowing workers six months to lodge a claim instead of the current three, and
  • Clearing the backlog of cases that has more than doubled since 2018.

In addition, it recommends that the watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, should be given stronger powers, such as financial penalties when it finds non-compliance, and the ability to proactively inspect businesses where it suspects discrimination. Secondly, it should be resourced to investigate more cases of workplace discrimination, widening the scope and number of cases they can currently take. Thirdly, it recommends improving the “join-up” between the commission and other enforcement bodies, so that employers who fail to meet their legal requirements on multiple counts face the consequences.

The survey of over 3,000 working-age adults was carried out in September 2022. People were asked about their experience of different forms of workplace discrimination in the last 12 months – for example, being turned down for a job or denied training – based on each of nine protected characteristics.

To read the report in full, click here.