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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.


Work related problem

Have I been discriminated against because of my race?

If you have been treated unfairly on racial grounds, this may be unlawful discrimination. 

‘Racial grounds’ includes your colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins or being a member of the Irish Traveller community.

If as a result of these grounds you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, you can challenge the treatment under the race relations law.

Is all race discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of race discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:
  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others because of your race.  For example:  An Asian worker, despite being the best candidate in a pool of applicants, is not appointed to a job because of his race.
  • Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your racial group. For example:  When recruiting a job, an employer asks for a higher standard of English than is needed for job to be carried out effectively.
  • Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on racial grounds, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. For example:  A Polish worker is subjected to racist jokes, banter, insults, is excluded from tea breaks, picked on and experiences an uncomfortable working environment.
  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of race discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the race law. For example:  A Latvian woman complains to her manager about racist remarks made by colleagues in her presence.  She is immediately told her work is unsatisfactory and is dismissed, but the real reason for her dismissal is the complaint.

How am I protected against race discrimination?

You are protected from race discrimination in all aspects of working life:

  • Applying for a job
  • Terms and conditions in a job
  • Opportunities for training / promotion
  • Disciplinary / grievance procedures
  • The working environment
  • Dismissal / redundancy
  • Job references

However, there are limited circumstances where race discrimination is allowed i.e. belonging to a particular racial group is necessary to do a job. This is called genuine occupational requirement (GOR).


Genuine occupational requirement examples:

  • A local drama group requires a black person to play the part of Othello, on grounds of authenticity.
  • A hostel run for Asian women who have suffered violence may be able to insist that they only employ Asian women.  This is because residents would find it easier to relate to people from their own racial group and gender.

What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with your employer and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further you must notify the Labour Relations Agency. You will be offered early conciliation which can help you and your employer resolve the issue before you need to make a claim. 

4. If your complaint is still not resolved you can lodge a claim with the tribunals.  We may be able to provide you with legal representation. It is your responsibility to lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.

Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.

Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications


Have I been the victim of a race hate crime?

A race hate crime is any incident perceived to have been committed against you or your property on the grounds of your ethnicity.

Racist incidents can take many different forms, for example, personal assaults, damage to your home or property as well as verbal abuse, hate mail, or the circulation of racist leaflets and materials.

You can find out more on racist hate crime on the Police Service for NI's website

What should I do if I have been a victim of race hate crime?
If you have been the victim of a racist incident you can call the Police on 101 (and select option 2: reporting a hate crime). In an emergency always call 999.

If you would like the police to know about a hate crime but you really do not want to report the crime yourself, someone else can report it for you – this is called third party reporting.

If your home has been attacked because of your race you may be eligible for personal and home protection measures under the Hate Incidents Practical Actions (HIPA) Scheme.

What is the Equality Commission's role in relation to racist hate crime?
Although the Commission does not deal directly with hate crime it seeks through its policy work to influence the NI Executive and others to implement measures to tackle racism and hate crime. For more on this see the Commission’s priorities and recommendations on racial equality.

Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of race discrimination. Complaints on employment issues must be made to the tribunals within three months from the date of the discriminatory act. Even if you are attempting to resolve problems internally, the statutory time limits still apply.

If you wish to lodge a claim with the tribunals, you must first notify the Labour Relations Agency and discuss the option of early conciliation.  Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option.  Your time limit is likely to be affected by this.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim. This is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.  You still need to contact the Labour Relations Agency before you lodge a claim out of time.

< Work related problem
Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to race discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel:  028 90 500 600.

Main law:


  • Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 (this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the several amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2009)

Amending law:

European Union law:

Tribunal Rules

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Constitution & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020

Conciliation Rules - Employment: Dispute resolution

• The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Early Conciliation: Exemptions & Rules of Procedure) Regulations (NI) 2020
Terence's Story

Market analyst Terence Lesslar took HR solutions company Sycadex Ltd to an industrial tribunal alleging race discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race and unfair dismissal. The tribunal found in his favour on all grounds and said where there was a conflict of evidence it preferred the evidence of Mr Lesslar.

It found the managing director was "responsible for a sustained campaign of discrimination against the claimant". Terence, who was supported by the Equality Commission, was awarded a total of £36,319 for loss of income and pension entitlement, future loss and damages.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


Dr Madavo's Story

Dr Crispin Madavo, a Zimbabwean born veterinarian, was paid £50,000 by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in settlement of discrimination cases he brought with the assistance of the Equality Commission.


Dr Madavo was employed by the Department as an official veterinary surgeon and based at an abattoir in Coleraine.  He complained to the industrial tribunal that internal disciplinary proceedings, and sanctions imposed upon him, were acts of victimisation because he had made earlier complaints of racial discrimination and victimisation.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


McDonagh & Stoke's Story
Two young members of the Irish Traveller community, Martin McDonagh and Patrick Stokes, were recruited through an employment agency as labourers to carry out repair work at the Odyssey complex.

On their first day, comments were made to them about their accents and on their second day they were prevented from accessing their workplace. They were escorted off the premises by a security guard while another employee from the settled community who had worked alongside them was allowed access. 

The tribunal upheld their complaints of race discrimination and awarded each of them £10,000, to include an award of aggravated damages, along with interest of £2,800.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


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