How do you deal with victimisation at work, as an employer? This type of mistreatment in the workplace can occur subtly, without management or other colleagues noticing it. However, a tribunal claim due to victimisation could still cost you money and affect your business reputation.
Here, we’ll discuss how to identify, manage, and prevent victimisation at work. This guide also covers advice on how to deal with a legal claim an employee makes against you.
What is victimisation at work?
Victimisation is when an employee receives unfair treatment due to having complained about discrimination or having helped somebody complain. It also covers situations where they expressed concerns about less favourable treatment due to one of the nine protected characteristics.
Looking at victimisation by the Equality Act 2010, we see the law identifies four protected acts, as follows:
- Making a claim or complaint of discrimination
- Helping someone else make a claim by providing evidence or information
- Alleging that you or someone else has breached the Act
- Doing anything else in connection with the Act, related to discrimination and equality
This means that the law protects employees from detrimental treatment targeted at them for having performed any of the protected actions. Whether bullying, direct discrimination or harassment, any form of unfair treatment risks damaging staff trust and company reputation.
It’s worth noting that any of the above can occur before the staff member made the complaint. Employees suffer victimisation on the assumption they would have made a complaint or supported somebody else who did.
Learning from the mistakes other companies have done can help all of us do better. So, let’s look into a few examples of how employees have experienced victimisation at work.
Victimisation at work examples
Our advisors have learnt through years of experience that not all cases of unfair treatment are clear and straightforward. Bullying or harassment often happen away from witnesses, and victimised employees might fear reprimand.
Let’s look at how employers have failed to act against victimisation at work. Or they might have even victimised workers for having made a complaint.
In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that British Airways discriminated against employee Nadia Eweida. At the time when Eweida complained about discrimination, the company dress code stated employees could not wear visible jewellery around their neck. The company had prevented the employee, a devout Christian, from visibly wearing a cross. After the success at ECHR, Eweida took the case further with a claim of victimisation due to her complaints.
Below, we’ll summarise other examples that we’ve seen happening:
- A team leader threatens to dismiss a worker who might have witnessed an instance of sexual harassment. They assume the worker will complain because they saw them talking to the colleague they mistreated and frightened earlier during the shift.
- An employee complains to senior management about their line manager refusing to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled colleague. From that point on, the line manager constantly criticises the work of the employee without a solid reason.
- A line manager makes derogatory comments about a foreign worker’s accent, with implications that it affects their performance. A colleague interferes to deny that’s the case, and the manager stops giving them extra shifts as they have always taken.
Remember to also look out for signs of victimisation at work. Any negative change in work pattern, feedback given, day to day treatment, promotions, or access to training after they made a complaint might indicate victimisation.
How to deal with victimisation at work
The way you deal with employees sharing their concerns will make a real difference when tackling discrimination and victimisation. Create a company culture built on openness and trust, where you reward and encourage engagement.
If you demonstrate, consistently and fairly, that you take staff concerns seriously, they’re less likely to be bullied into silence.
Also, remember that the way you deal with staff making mistakes matters. If not allowed to learn from their shortcomings and improve, they will stay reluctant to trust you fully.
Taking the above as your general approach, consider the following steps in dealing with victimisation:
- Hold team meetings and one-to-one sessions regularly. These are a great opportunity to bring up concerns.
- Keep accurate records of all your meetings, as well as staff complaints. You might need to go back to these and cross-reference.
- Remember to always update staff members who made a complaint. Explain why their complaint was or wasn’t successful.
- Deal with grievances in a positive, solution-orientated manner, and without delay. We know managing workplace conflict between colleagues doesn’t come easy, that’s why we offer to help with our workplace mediation services.
How to deal with a victimisation claim
Above we discussed how to prevent others from victimising your employees. But what should you do when a staff member makes a claim against you?
Firstly, remember that the burden of proof falls on them to demonstrate that they have a claim. They will need to prove that they’ve done a protected act. They will also need to show that you put them at a detriment because they did the protected act.
Aiming for early conciliation might benefit both you and the employee to clarify grievances and misunderstandings. Records and dealing with grievances without delay will help support your case.
Our highly experienced colleagues can help you with solid employment law advice should you face an employment tribunal.
Get HR advice from Croner
Victimisation in the workplace might occur easier than you’d expect. If a line manager thinks a worker has wrongly complained against them, they might treat them unfairly and consider it justified.
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