5 Examples of workplace behaviour that’s not okay

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect at work, but sadly, people are still being discriminated against. If you are worried about how you are being treated, here are just a few examples of behaviour that is not ok. 

Ordinary workers in the UK are still being discriminated against for things like being a woman, not being white, being gay or trans, or being disabled. 

How common is workplace discrimination?

The UK government keeps a database on Employment Tribunals, and it shows the following numbers of discrimination cases from just the first six months of 2021. This shows how disappointingly common workplace discrimination still is.

If you are feeling worried about your workplace, this article should help you get the right information together and think about putting forward a discrimination case. 

5 Workplace Discrimination Examples

We will look at five workplace discrimination examples, giving some real life instances:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex/gender 
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability

Remember that there are still several other areas that are grounds for discrimination, with nine specifically protected characteristics. There are also laws designed to protect you if you are on a part-time or fixed-term contract. 

1. Race Discrimination

This is when you are mistreated by customers or colleagues due to your race. 

”Complaining about racism is childish”

In 2017, a man working in personal training sales, Thomas, represented himself at the Employment Tribunal in London, claiming racial discrimination and victimisation. 

He had been called to a meeting by his employers because they said they were worried about his sales rate. He then complained to them that he felt he was being discriminated against because of his skin colour. He was told to not be ‘childish’ and two months later was dismissed from the job.

Thomas complained to the Tribunal that his race was a factor in his dismissal, so he had been directly discriminated against. He also complained of victimisation, after having raised a complaint of race discrimination.

The Tribunal did not agree with his claim of direct race discrimination. They considered that the reason he was called to the initial meeting was because of genuine concerns about his work. They did not think that there was any evidence that he was dismissed because of direct race discrimination, either.

The way he was treated after complaining was the real problem here, which was recognised by the Tribunal. They agreed he had been subjected to race victimisation and awarded a total of £55,256.08 in lost earnings and injury to feelings.

Employers have a legal obligation to follow a process in the event of complaints, and Thomas’s compensation was substantially increased because his employer did not follow any such process before they dismissed him.

Read the full details of this racial discrimination case at gov.uk

2. Age discrimination

Age discrimination is when customers, management or colleagues treat you unfairly due to your age. For example, this might include dismissing your opinions because you are too young, or denying you promotion because you are too old.  

“You have a lot of maturing up to do”

In 2020, a 16-year old was represented by his father at an employment tribunal claiming age discrimination. He had been offered an apprenticeship over email, and had turned down other job offers as a result. However, the company wrote to him ending his contract before he had started, and when he complained he was told that he had an attitude problem and that “my personal opinion is you have a lot of maturing up to do”.

The judge considered that, because of the language used in the email, the company had directly discriminated against him because of his young age. The judge also found that his apprenticeship had been wrongfully terminated, because the company had committed to training him for a full 2 year period. He was awarded £7,908 in damages and compensation.

Read the full age discrimination judgement at gov.uk 

3. Sex & gender based discrimination

This is when you’re mistreated due to your gender, directly or indirectly.

“This party is men only”

In 2017, a chef was working in a temporary, agency role in London.  The Office Manager at the company she was temping at put her forward as a candidate to work at a private barbecue hosted by a friend of the Head of Sales. They later denied her the chance to work at the barbecue on the grounds that it was an all-male event. 

Although the potential work was a private event, there was a sufficiently close connection with the company and so they were still liable because they had not selected her because of her gender.

She was awarded £575 for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

Read the full sex (gender) discrimination case at gov.uk

4. Sexual Orientation Discrimination

This is when you’re treated unfairly by customers, management or colleagues due to your sexual orientation. 

This might be clear, direct discrimination - someone excluding you or treating you badly because of your sexuality - or might be a more subtle , indirect form, like using the term ‘gay’ to mean weak or ridiculous.

”Men need to be gay to sell handbags”

In 2019, a bisexual man working at a handbag shop in Gateshead brought a case against his employers, representing himself. They thought that only women or gay men should work in a handbag shop, and heard managers explicitly discussing that they should hide the fact that the man was bisexual, rather than gay. 

He then became acting manager himself, and was again told that he should only hire women and gay men to work in the shop. The managers who told him this still thought he himself was gay, rather than bisexual.  

When he tried to take this to tribunal, his employers tried to obstruct the case, and this ended up being something that worked in his favour.

The judge concluded that although the management had not intended to harass the worker, this still counted as harassment based on sexuality.

He was awarded £7,000 for injury to feelings and aggravated damages. 

Read the full sexuality discrimination case online at gov.uk

5. Disability Discrimination

This is when customers, management or colleagues treat you unfairly due to your disability. 

If someone you work with uses derogatory language towards you because of your disability, this is an example of direct discrimination. It’s also not ok for your employer to refuse reasonable adjustments for you to do your job.

There are also lots of examples of indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation when it comes to disabled people. For example, if the systems you need to use to carry out your job are hard to use because of your disability, this is exclusionary and could well count as indirect discrimination.

"Your health problems mean we can't employ you at all"

An Ambulance Person, Billie, represented herself at a tribunal in a case that began in 2017. She had been working for a health trust for nearly ten years before developing back pain that meant she was unable to safely carry out her job. She had long periods of time off sick, and the trust needed to replace her in her role. They decided to dismiss her in December of that year.

They had a number of policies in place around sickness and an obligation to redeploy staff who could not do their original job, but could do something else. Billie really wanted to carry on working at the same place, even if the role was different, and she showed that she had tried to apply for internal vacancies that had been sent to her. The tribunal identified a particular job that she clearly met the criteria for, and felt she had been unfairly blocked from being redeployed to that job. The trust did not properly follow through on its own procedures, in the tribunal’s judgement.

After Billie was fired, she did apply for some jobs, but she didn’t get any. She struggled to continue her job search due to the impact of losing her job on her mental and physical health.

In 2020, she was awarded £168,373.35 for a variety of compensation categories, including injury to feelings, loss of earnings and past and future loss of pension.

Read the full disability discrimination judgment at gov.uk 

What kind of discrimination are you facing?

Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint the exact reason you are being discriminated against.

For example, if you are a trans woman, it might not be clear if you’re being discriminated against because you are a woman or because you are trans. If you are an older person with a disability, you can’t always tell if it is age discrimination or disability discrimination. Fortunately, you can list more than one kind of discrimination in a tribunal claim - this is a very common approach.

You are not alone

It can feel very intimidating to report discrimination in your workplace. Lots of people just live through it because they want to avoid conflict, are scared it will make things worse, or worried it will affect future work. 

However, if anyone in your company treats you badly because you have made a complaint about discrimination, this is victimisation and is a breach of employment law in its own right. 

How we can help

If you want to stand up to your employer but can’t afford a lawyer, we at Valla are here to help. There are people like you who have won their case in an Employment Tribunal, or who have got compensation (settlement) without even having to go to court at all. It is up to you what route you choose.

The first step is to organise all your evidence, and that is one of the ways we can help here at Valla. If you sign up for an account, you can get a clear space to upload and organise your evidence, and generate the necessary documents for your hearing.  

Get started for free 


Names of claimants have been changed to protect their privacy.