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No promotion or pay rise: is it discrimination?

If you have not had a pay rise or a promotion for a long time, you may think it's discrimination. But this may not be the case, and the details matter.

Pay rises

You need a reason for a pay rise, such as:

  • Your pay is not at the market rate. You can research what other people are being paid by looking at jobs advertised at a similar level.
  • You’ve recently taken on extra duties.
  • You have satisfied your employer’s criteria for a pay rise.
  • Your pay is less than the National Minimum Wage. This is illegal.

If your non-disabled colleagues are treated the same, this means that you're not being discriminated against.

If other people in the company have not had pay rises, it's harder to argue that you should. To prove discrimination, you need to know that other people have been paid more while you have not. If you know your colleagues have received a pay rise, then ask why you have not.

Your first step should be to talk to your line manager or someone in the human resources (HR) department. You could try emailing them or talk to them in private:

“I am aware that other people have had pay rises and I’ve noticed that I haven’t. Please can you explain why?”

There may be a good reason. Each company handles pay differently. But if there are rules, they must be consistent.

If rules are unfair to disabled people, this is discrimination. For example, if pay rises depend on attendance records and do not allow for disability-related absence.

Disability discrimination at work


It can be harder to prove that the lack of a promotion is discrimination.

If no one else has had a promotion, you cannot claim discrimination. If you applied for a promotion and did not get it, you would have to show that the decision related to your condition or impairment to prove discrimination. For example, the interview or assessment put you at a disadvantage because no sign language interpreter was available.

Reasonable adjustments

The promotion process may involve tests or assessments. Do you need reasonable adjustments, such as a larger text or a quiet room, to have the same chances as your colleagues?

If you believe a certain assessment may affect your chances of promotion, discuss alternatives with your line manager or HR department. This shows them you are keen to prove your abilities.

Bonus and promotion criteria can be discrimination

Find out what criteria your employer uses for promoting staff. If these disadvantage disabled people, they could be discriminatory. For example, if your boss wants staff to network, and the venues are not accessible to you.

If you have had disability-related absence, it could be discrimination if your employer does not make allowances for this.

If the way your performance is measured disadvantages you, speak to your line manager about how you might change this. There may be other ways of doing this that will make it more possible for you to reach promotion. Working out what's possible is what the law calls 'reasonable adjustments'.

Reasonable adjustments at work

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against

If the evidence suggests that your lack of promotion is discrimination, talk about it with your line manager. If doing this does not help, you could raise a grievance with your employer.

You can get free, impartial advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Their advisers can also discuss the pros and cons of taking a discrimination claim to an employment tribunal. You must do this in less than 3 months of the discrimination taking place.

Disability discrimination at work

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

Employment tribunals (GOV.UK)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 08/03/2021

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