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BAME workers changing names for fear of discrimination

Our research has shockingly shown that 1 in 3 Black Asian Minority and Ethnic (“BAME”) workers are asked to adopt a western work name. 

Of the 1000 BAME workers we surveyed, nearly half had abandoned their birth name at least once, most commonly because of fear of bias or discrimination. We’ve answered some frequently asked questions should you find yourself in this situation.  

  1. Can I submit a CV in a different name to my birth name?

You can – but you should not feel like you have to. 

Previous research has shown that people with white sounding names are more likely to get job interviews than BAME job applicants with the same work experience. 

We believe it’s not anyone’s name that needs to change but employers’ approach towards the recruitment process. 

Employers ought to consider using name blind applications. Anonymised applications alongside questions as an assessment tool are already used as a matter of course when the Civil Service recruits, and have been shown to improve the diversity of workforces when used as a matter of course in other countries.  

CV sifts can allow unconscious bias to seep into the recruitment process – whether this is judging candidates by their name or where they live.   

Unfortunately, our research shows that it is during the recruitment process when individuals are most likely to feel pressured to change their name. 

  1. Can your employer require you to change your name?

The short answer is no. Requiring certain employees to anglicise their names is likely to be direct race discrimination which is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”).  

Even if this request was directed towards the workforce at large and anyone with a difficult to pronounce or unusually spelt name was required to change it, this request is still very likely to be discriminatory because BAME workers would be very likely to be disproportionately affected. 

Understandably, employees may also find the request itself to be harassment contrary to the Act given our names are a fundamental part of our identity; it is likely that employees would find it offensive to be asked to take a different name. 

Your employer getting your name right is also vital to building trust and confidence between you and your employer. Requiring you to change it could therefore also be a fundamental breach of that duty of trust and confidence and form the basis of a constructive unfair dismissal claim if you have already been working for that employer for 2 years. 

  1. What should I do if I am asked to change my name?

Any request is likely to be unlawful. We can advise you on your next steps, which may include raising a grievance. 

  1. What can employers do to eradicate this type of discrimination?

As well as considering name blind applications and reviewing their recruitment processes to ensure BAME workers are not treated less favourably, employers should ensure that any training that they provide to staff raises awareness in the workforce that westernised nicknames for colleagues can be discriminatory; training to line managers needs to underline the importance of getting their team’s names right and accommodating religious and cultural practices of BAME workers. 

Employers might want to consider researching and reporting on the race pay gap that exists in their workplace to ensure diversity lies at the heart of their agenda. 

No one should feel forced to be anything other than who they are to get a job or succeed in the workplace.  


Hayley Johnson is a Senior Associate in our Employment team in Edinburgh. If you need any advice on an employment issue, please call our team on 0808 175 7783, email or submit your information for a call back from our team. 


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