Our NHS People

Understanding discrimination


Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we already knew from data that certain groups such as young people, disabled, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Muslim peoples, had consistently lower employment rates and were more likely to be in insecure jobs and lower grade roles (EHRC, 2018[1]). Often, for these groups of people as well as some others, such as women and LGBT, we see higher rates of bullying, harassment and exposure to ill-treatment at work.  Why is this important to you?

Discrimination is illegal

Discrimination hurts people. Therefore, the 2010 Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex, age, disability (including long-term health conditions), being married or in a civil partnership, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sexual orientation or being pregnant or on maternity leave.  These are protected characteristics. Compensation for discrimination at work has no upper limit and the costs to an employer can be significant.

What is discrimination?

Put simply, discrimination is denying to individuals or groups of individuals equal treatment they wish for. It is about treatment that is unfair or different compared to everyone else.

The NHS employs very large numbers of people who might be at risk of discrimination. We know that often, people at risk of discrimination are frightened to speak up for many reasons. Sometimes because it’s not in their culture to do so, or because they are in lower, sometimes less secure roles. Perhaps they are the sole wage earner for their family and they feel the risk is too high.

We also know people struggle to understand if they are experiencing bullying because of their characteristics, or simply being discriminated against? In most cases, people perceive themselves discriminated because they are treated differently compared to others.

In your work department there will be group norms – the usual way things are done. These are generally organised by the dominant group, which might be by White British people, but not always. These would be the in-group.

Research shows that the in-group control how things are done, how shifts are organised, set cultural customs and so forth. If you are in the in-group, you are accepted. But what happens if you are not in this group?

Being in the out-group can lead to feeling isolated, alone, marginalised, less valued and distressed. The out-group is not a good place to be, but it is easy to find yourself there if you do not fit it or are not welcomed by those in the in-group.

[1] Is Britain Fairer? The state of equality and human

Rights 2018. Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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