A Small Business Guide on How to Avoid Discrimination

With potentially unlimited liability, discrimination law is one area you need to be careful around as a business owner – find out how to navigate the law

A Small Business Guide on How to Avoid Discrimination

How do I deal with a complaint of discrimination?

When someone makes a complaint of discrimination, it is important to take it seriously from the start, even if you think it is unsubstantiated.

Follow these steps when you face a complaint of discrimination:

  • Take advice.
  • Investigate the complaint: Be as thorough and objective as possible, and be prepared to get an independent third-party to help with the process.
  • Gather all the evidence you can: It’s vitally important you can justify your decision later on, whatever the outcome. All your investigations should be above-board, and obviously so.
  • Use your official processes: If you’ve followed the above advice you should have a procedure for dealing with grievances.
  • Offer redress: If you find the complaint to be justified, be prepared to offer compensation and change any policies you found to be wanting. If the complaint is not justified, explain why.
  • Offer an appeal: Offer the complainant an appeal if you reject their complaint.


If they find your response to the complaint wanting, your employees can make a complaint to the employment tribunal. As part of thisclaim they may send you a questionnaire on discrimination; it is normally a good idea to complete this, unless you find the questions to be unreasonable.

Remember it is normally a good idea to try and settle out-of-court if you can, even if you think you have a strong case. Tribunal claims can take months to complete and could prove an expensive distraction from the day-to-day running of your business. Acas offers a free, independent conciliation service to help you resolve disputes.

Are there any situations where discrimination is allowed?

The law recognises that discrimination is not always clear-cut, and there are some limited situations where discrimination is allowed.

Although positive discrimination is not allowed, you can take some steps to encourage under-represented groups to improve their position in the workforce, such as improving their access to training and experience to build skills.

The other exception to discrimination law is where you discriminate because of a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ for a job. An example would selecting only black actors to play the part of Othello. The requirement must be a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’; in other words, the requirement must be genuine and you must go no further than necessary.

Further, you are allowed to dismiss someone on the grounds of old age, if the dismissal is ‘objectively justified’. For example, you would probably be justified in dismissing a 70-year-old employee from a manual labour job if they were too frail to carry out the work safely.

Where can I go for help and advice on discrimination law?

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission contains advice and guidance for employers on every aspect of equality and discrimination law. The body runs an advisory and support service which can be reached here or on 0808 800 0082.
  • Acas provides a range of conciliation and advice service for employers facing a discrimination claim.
  • The government guidance on the Equality Act has a range of PDF guides covering different aspect of equality and discrimination.
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