How to Deal With Employee Victimisation


14 Dec 2018


Dealing with employee mistreatment is an important aspect of human resources in the workplace. If you fail to address the issue, then you can face legal action.

This guide explains how you can avoid treating your staff members unfairly. There’s also advice about dealing with a legal claim an employee makes against you.

What is victimisation in the workplace?

It involves subjecting an employee to any form of detriment for doing one of the four protected acts specified in the Equality Act 2010. It can also occur if an employee receives unfair treatment for supporting or helping another colleague who has done a protected act.

Bullying can take place if the employee does any of the four protected acts that relate to any form of discrimination (not just harassment, but also direct and indirect discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments allegations etc.)

Detriments are not just limited to harassment in the workplace. A detriment is basically anything that puts an individual at a disadvantage or changes their position within the company for the worse.

According to the Equality Act 2010, a member of staff can make a victimisation claim even before making a complaint. This includes situations where they're harassed by you, or any of your other staff members, based on suspicions of making a future claim.

What is a protected act?

Under the Equality Act 2010, you’re protected against victimisation in the workplace if you do one or more of the following protected acts:

  • Making a claim or complaint of discrimination.
  • Helping someone else make a claim by providing evidence or information.
  • Making an allegation you or someone else has breached the act.
  • Doing anything else connected to the act.

In effect, the protection against mistreatment only falls into place if a detriment occurs after the act has taken place.

What law protects you from victimisation at work?

The law on bullying set out in the Equality Act 2010 covers employment discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics including:

  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Sex.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Marriage.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Sexual orientation.

Individuals aren't protected from victimisation under that act if they've provided false evidence. The same goes if they've made an allegation in bad faith.

The burden of proof

As with most complaint procedures, it’s up to the claimants to present any proof of mistreatment that might have taken place.

For employees to make a successful victimisation claim against you, they'll need to prove that they’ve done a protected act. They’ll also need to show that their employer put them at a detriment because they did the protected act.

Having an independent witness can help determine the outcome of your case. You should also consider the quality of the evidence you and your staff provide.

Prevention tips

Establishing victimisation policies can help deter you and your employees from treating someone at a detriment because they have made a protected act. Other tips for protecting your staff includes:

  • Training your staff (especially managers) to understand all elements of the Equality Act 2010. They should recognise, understand and know how to deal with the impact of discrimination at work. It also allows your team to recognise and deal with these issues.
  • Keeping records of any decisions or communications with employees who have previously made a complaint or accusation. This way you can use these to show the reasons for your decisions had nothing to do with the fact they made a complaint in the first place.
  • Avoiding retaliation, no matter how angry you might be with someone else.
  • Addressing complaints immediately and fairly eliminates the need for an employment tribunal. Your employees can also take you to an employment tribunal for inaction.
  • Avoiding gossip and promoting direct conversations between workers. Direct conversation with the affected parties gets rid of the need for relying on hearsay. It can also contribute to the validity of an employment tribunal claim.

Expert support

Check out our guide on managing harassment in the workplace. Contact us for specialist advice on bullying in the workplace. Call us on 0808 145 3374.

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