Race Discrimination

The Employment Equality Acts prohibit discrimination in the workplace. This includes discrimination via recruitment, promotion, working conditions, training, and harassment.

The Workplace Relations Act 2015 further provides that there will be two bodies dealing with complaints/disputes in respect of employment law matters. This act positions the Workplace Relations Commission as the central power handling employment law disputes between employees and employers.

Race Discrimination Defined

The Employment Equality Act defines discrimination as treating a person in a less favourable way to another person based on several grounds, including race, skin colour, ethnic origin, or nationality.

An employee is said to be discriminated against if they are treated less favourably than another person in the workplace due to an immutable attribute like skin colour or race.

Racial discrimination and race-based prejudice can undermine productivity and evidently negatively affects an outward looking and open economy such as ours. Many ethnic minorities may feel alienated or underappreciated in their job roles, which will contribute to their feelings of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction can translate to high turnover.

Example of Race Discrimination At Work

An example of workplace discrimination is a scenario where you are disrespected and treated less favourably to other employees of one ethnic origin due to your race/nationality/colour. Legislation further provides legal protection for employees discriminated against due to gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability.

It also goes beyond behaviour, including hiring and firing practices. To further understand race-based discrimination in the workplace, you will need to understand the distinction between direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is when a person in the workplace is treated less favourably than another person in the same situation or circumstance. Direct discrimination  can include discrimination in collective agreements, by employment agencies, in advertising products, and vocational training. Direct discrimination can manifest itself as an order given by a supervisor to a subordinate to discriminate against another employee. Direct discrimination is straightforward and is the type of discrimination that most people are able to easily recognize.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is a bit more insidious. It can occur where the employer applies a condition to everyone in the workplace but exempts certain groups or has conditions that fewer groups of one race are able to comply with.

A clear example of indirect discrimination includes job advertisements that suggest that applicants have to be of a certain race. They may not explicitly say or define a certain race or group of people, but they use language that includes and excludes certain people. The rationale for this requirement has to be objectively justified by the employer.

Making a Complaint

In cases where it is established that there has been discrimination, then it is up to the employer to prove otherwise. The burden of proof can be significant for employers, so it is best employers endeavour to ensure that all workplace discrimination does not occur to avoid leaving themselves open to lawsuits or claims. Furthermore victimization in the workplace is against the law in Ireland. This bars employers from penalizing employees simply because they have filed a complaint.

If you’re an employee and have been on the receiving end of racially based discrimination, then you are entitled to take legal action invoking rights under the Equality Acts.  In those circumstances you must file a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission.

Time Limitations To File Complaints

It is best to file complaints with the Workplace Relations Commission as soon as possible since there are very strict time constraints. You have up to six months after the act of discrimination to file a complaint. The Workplace Relations Commission will be able to extend this if you can show that there were exceptional circumstances only. These circumstances can be illness, injury, or death that prevented you from making a complaint within the first six months.


Please be advised that the above-mentioned material is intended as an overview and as a broad out-line of the topic discussed. It should not be considered as complete and comprehensive legal advice, nor act as an appropriate substitute.
Due care has been taken in the publication of this article and we do not accept legal liability as a result of reliance on any material covered in the above article.