Discrimination at work

Explains what laws protect you from discrimination at work, what you can do if you are discriminated against, and where you can get support and advice. Applies to England and Wales.

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How can I challenge discrimination at work?

There are a number of ways to challenge disability discrimination at work. What's best for you will depend on exactly what has happened and how you feel about it. But it's usually a good idea try to resolve things as quickly and informally as possible. If this doesn't work, you have the option of taking a legal claim to the Employment Tribunal.

This page provides information on:

In general the stages you might go through to reach a resolution look like this:

Resolving issues informally

Start by speaking to your colleagues, manager or HR department as soon as possible. If you can it’s usually best to resolve your problem by just talking it through, as this will be more relaxed and also helps to keep good working relationships.

If you’re satisfied with the outcome at this stage, your dispute comes to an end. If not, you can continue.

You may need to take some time to think things over before deciding exactly what to say to whom. But don't leave it too long, just in case you can't sort things out and you want to take it further. The deadline for making a claim to the Employment Tribunal is only 3 months minus 1 day from when the dispute happens (not including any time you spend in early conciliation).

Following formal grievance procedures

Many employers have formal grievance procedures in place for exactly this kind of situation. You have the right to take a work colleague or trade union representative to any grievance hearing.

In this case it may help to:

  • Write down what has happened, how it's affecting you, and what support you want.
  • Get a supporting letter about your mental health problem from your GP or other health or social care professional. (This is especially helpful if your dispute is over reasonable adjustments.)
  • Ask for a response in writing, and always keep copies of any correspondence you send or receive (including emails).
  • Get legal advice from a trade union or specialist adviser (trade union advice may be free if you're a member, but you will probably have to pay for specialist legal advice).

If you’re satisfied with the outcome at this stage, your dispute comes to an end. If not, you can continue.

Early Conciliation with ACAS

If your dispute can't be resolved without outside help, contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) as soon as possible. They'll offer you the chance to try and settle the dispute without going to court by using their free ‘Early Conciliation’ service. Time you spend in early conciliation doesn’t count towards the 3 months you have to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

If you’re satisfied with the outcome at this stage, your dispute comes to an end. If not, you can continue with a legal claim. To do this you'll need an early conciliation certificate.

Getting your early conciliation certificate

If you’ve not been able to resolve your dispute through early conciliation, ACAS will send you an 'early conciliation certificate'. Once you receive this certificate, you’ll have the same amount of time left to make your claim as you did before you started conciliation.

Example

Helen’s employer discriminates against her. She knows the deadline for bringing a claim to the Employment Tribunal is 3 months away (minus 1 day). She spends 1 month trying to resolve the issue informally and considering her options. She decides she wants to takes things further. She contacts ACAS and spends 2 months in early conciliation. The early conciliation still does not help to settle her dispute, so she decides to continue with her case.

ACAS send Helen an early conciliation certificate. By this point it’s been 3 months since the discrimination happened, but because the 2 months she spent in early conciliation doesn’t count, the deadline for making her claim is still 2 months away (minus 1 day).


 

Making a claim to the Employment Tribunal

To make your claim you have to fill out and submit claim form (you can do this online using the Employment Tribunal Service). You can also download the claim form (called an ET1 claim form) here on the gov.uk website.

If you decide to take this step:

  • Seek legal advice. It is always important to get good legal advice about your situation before going to court. See Useful contacts for information on how to find legal help.
  • See if you can get assistance and support. Taking legal action can be complicated and stressful. You could ask a trusted friend or advocate to help you (see our pages on advocacy for more information).
  • Watch a case at your local Tribunal. If your case is going to a full hearing, then it can be useful to watch another person’s case to familiarise yourself with the process. The gov.uk website has a list of Employment Tribunal venues.

Can I still make a claim if I miss the 3 month deadline?

In most cases no. But in rare cases the Employment Tribunal can extend this deadline if it is “just and equitable” to do so – for example, if you have been very unwell after the discrimination.

If you want to ask for a deadline extension then you should explain your reasons in your ET1 claim form. If you have medical reasons for missing the deadline, ask your GP or another medical professional to provide you with a written letter explaining how your medical condition has affected your ability to put your claim in on time.

Tips on filling out the ET1 claim form

  • Write out the details of your claim as clearly as possible, using language that feels simple and natural to you.
  • If you are claiming disability discrimination, put down what your mental health problem is and how it affects you.
  • Explain what outcome you want (such as compensation, or a recommendation that the employer makes reasonable adjustments).
  • Indicate any adjustments you may need to the process (such as regular breaks during a hearing).

What might happen when I take a disability discrimination claim to the Employment Tribunal?

Taking legal proceedings against your employer may not be straightforward, since both parties have the right to appeal decisions at various stages, or you may choose to settle your case at any point. But in general, these are the stages you can expect:

The employer is notified about your claim

As soon as the employer has been notified about your claim, they have 28 days to send a written response.

If they fail to respond in writing within 28 days then your claim will automatically succeed, and your dispute comes to an end. If your employer responds disputing your claim, then your claim will continue.

Pre-hearing

Some straightforward cases will be listed for a “fast track hearing” but for disability discrimination cases you will usually be invited to a “pre-hearing”. The purpose of the pre-hearing is:

  • To clarify what your claim is about and what the employer’s defence is. 
  • To consider whether your claim should proceed to a final hearing, and if not, to dismiss your claim.
  • To make orders about how the claim will progress (called “case management orders”). This will likely mean:
    • ordering parties to provide information, such a schedule of loss showing what compensation you are claiming and why (for example, lost wages)
    • ordering you to provide supporting medical records, a GP or specialist report, or an “impact statement” written by yourself. (If the employer is arguing that your mental health problem is not a disability then Tribunal may set another pre-hearing to consider this.)
    • ordering parties to provide copies of all documents relevant to the case
    • ordering parties to provide written witness statements from all of the people who will give evidence.
  • To set a date for the final hearing of your claim.
  • To consider if any reasonable adjustments should be made to help you participate in the final hearing (for example, taking regular breaks).

Mediation

If you still work for the employer you may be offered judicial mediation. This is a form of dispute resolution which does not involve going to a final hearing. You and you employer both attend the Tribunal and a specially trained judge helps you try to resolve your dispute. The mediation is in private, and if you can’t resolve your dispute, nothing you or the employer say at the mediation can be referred to at any final hearing.

Often mediation can be successful, and your dispute comes to an end. If not, your claim may continue.

Final hearing

This is the ‘trial’ stage of your claim. Disability discrimination claims are heard by a Tribunal panel consisting of a judge and two other panel members with relevant experience of employment issues. You and your witnesses will be given the opportunity to:

  • present your evidence in the form of a witness statement, and
  • point the Tribunal to relevant documents (such as your contract of employment, workplace policies, medical records, reports, emails and letters).

The employer or its representative will be entitled to ask you questions about your evidence – this is called “cross-examination”. The employer’s witnesses will also present their own evidence and you or your representative can cross-examine them.

The Tribunal panel often also asks its own questions of you, the employer and any witnesses.

Judgment

After the hearing the Tribunal panel will reach a decision about whether you have won or lost your claim. If you win you are usually entitled to compensation (money). Sometimes they will make recommendations, for example that the employer makes any reasonable adjustments you’ve asked for. They could tell you their decision:

  • at the end of the final hearing, or
  • at a later date (called “reserving judgment”). This can be weeks or occasionally even months after the final hearing.

If you ask them to, they will always explain the reasons for their decision in writing.

If you and the employer accept the judgment and decisions, your dispute comes to an end. If not, your claim may continue.

Remedy hearing

If you've won your claim but the employer still does not make an acceptable offer of compensation then the Tribunal will arrange a “remedy hearing”. Here it will hear the evidence again and make a final decision on what the employer must pay (called the "remedy").

If the employer accepts the remedy, your dispute comes to an end. If not, they may appeal and your claim may continue.​

The Citizens Advice website has more information about taking a claim to an Employment Tribunal, including what kinds of costs might be involved and what it's like.

Ending your dispute

One way or another, your dispute will eventually come to a conclusion. This can be a difficult time, regardless of the outcome. For example, you might:

  • feel disappointed, frustrated and angry if the outcome wasn't everything you hoped for
  • be satisfied and relieved with the outcome, but still feel overwhelmed by what you've been through
  • have spent a lot of time and energy on your dispute – perhaps months or even years
  • need to rebuild relationships with your employer and colleagues
  • have already moved on from that workplace and want nothing more to do with them
  • not really feel that things really have been resolved at all, but still feel that it's the right choice for you to end the dispute at this stage.

However you feel when your dispute ends, it's important to make time to look after yourself and think about what helps you stay well. Our pages on wellbeingmanaging stress and being mentally healthy at work have some tips.

 


This information was published in March 2018. We will revise it in 2020.


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