One in five workers say they have experienced workplace discrimination in the past year, with low-paid workers twice as likely to be concerned about this than high-paid staff.
A report from think-tank the Resolution Foundation finds that 20% have felt they were discriminated against in some way, either at work or when applying for a job.
Examples of discrimination ranged from being turned down for a job (13% of respondents) to being denied a promotion (8%) or training (7%), the research found.
One in five ethnic minority workers faced discrimination on grounds of ethnicity alone, while one in seven people with a disability experienced disability discrimination.
Low-paid workers are particularly concerned, with 20% of people in the lowest pay quartile worried about discrimination, compared with 11% of those in the highest-paid jobs.
This may be because discrimination is more common in low-paying sectors, the report finds. Twenty-two per cent of retail workers and 20% of hospitality staff reported suffering some form of discrimination, compared with 14% of workers in the higher-paying manufacturing and finance sectors.
Discrimination at work
However, those most worried about discrimination – namely low-paid workers – were the least likely to challenge it in the courts. The report claims that higher-paid workers are more likely to have the resources to navigate the employment tribunals system, with many (between 66% and 80% of discrimination cases) being settled out of court.
The report recommends that legal aid should be extended to allow more lower-paid workers to seek recourse through the courts, and that more resources are put into the employment tribunals system to reduce the amount of time cases take to be heard.
Its adds that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be given more powers to undertake proactive enforcement and impose financial penalties on organisations that act unlawfully. Currently, the EHRC’s remit mainly focuses on guidance for businesses, which the Resolution Foundation does not feel is adequate to stamp out discrimination.
Hannah Slaughter, a senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain has had laws preventing discrimination in place since the 1960s, yet it remains all too common in workplaces today. One in five people say they have experienced some form of workplace discrimination in the past year, from being passed over for a new job, to missing out on a promotion and being denied training.
“Low-paid workers are most likely to be worried about discrimination at work, but the shortcomings of our legal system mean they are the least likely to try and address mistreatment through the courts.
“Employers and workers alike need to better understand what constitutes discrimination in workplaces today, and be confident that where it does occur, it can be stamped out either through dialogue, or the courts.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect and dignity at work. But far too many workers face discrimination just because of their race, gender, age, sexuality or class.
“[TUC research] found that two in five BME workers have experienced workplace discrimination, like being unfairly disciplined or passed over for training and promotion opportunities.
“Employers must adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. They must ensure that they protect and support all their staff who are subject to racial abuse – and make sure that workers who raise issues about racism are not victimised or relegated from the workplace as a result.”
The Resolution Foundation’s report was based on a YouGov survey of 3,419 adults in Great Britain.