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Health Assured team

22 July 2021

You have a legal responsibility to protect your employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing. That includes protecting staff from all forms of discrimination.

One form of discrimination is victimisation. This is when someone is treated badly because they complained about workplace discrimination or helped someone who was discriminated against.

Employers can face tribunal claims, compensation penalties, and business disruption if they don’t deal with victimisation cases properly.

We’ll explain what victimisation is, victimisation employment laws you must follow, and how to protect your staff from discrimination of this kind.

What is victimisation in the workplace?

Victimisation at work happens when an employee is treated unfairly because they raised a complaint of discrimination or aided someone who did.

Workers suffer victimisation because someone believes they have made a complaint — even if they haven’t.

The victim/s may be labelled as disloyal and troublesome, which could lead to being further ostracised and bullied at work.

What is victimisation discrimination?

There are several examples of workplace discrimination that class as victimisation. The Equality Act 2010 outline this unfair treatment as unlawful. Here are three victimisation examples:

  • A retail worker resigns after making a complaint of sexual harassment. They later went back to receive their wage slips but staff refused to communicate with them. The ill-treatment classes as victimisation.
  • An employer threatens to dismiss a worker because they intend to give evidence for a racial discrimination complaint raised by a colleague. Whether they’re dismissed or not, the threat classes as racial victimisation.
  • An office worker has a disagreement with another colleague relating to their annual pay reviews. Since the dispute, the other colleague has spread rumours that the worker has made a complaint about them. They continue to make rude remarks to the worker in passing. Even though the worker hasn’t made a complaint, the unfair treatment still classes as victimisation.

Victimisation & employment law

There isn’t a law that deals specifically with victimisation. Equality Act 2010 outlines victimisation discrimination as unlawful, if the action is against these protected characteristics:

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Race.
  • Disability.
  • Religion.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Marriage and civil partnership.

The act states victimisation happens when a person treats another unfavourably because they have performed, or are suspected to have performed, a ‘protected act’.

A protected act could be:

  • Making a claim for discrimination.
  • Helping someone make a claim for discrimination.
  • Raising a complaint for a legal violation.

Treating someone unfavourably can include several things. Such as excluding them from training activities, denying a promotion, or disciplining them unfairly.

If the employee acted with sincerity, they are protected from victimisation (even if their claim was later rejected at a tribunal).

Consequences of victimisation in the workplace

Both mental and physical health risks can fall on employees who suffer harassment and victimisation at the workplace.

The negative outcome from victimisation can fall on work performance, productivity, and ultimately, your business reputation.

Sufferers of victimisation at work should be allowed to continue working in a safe and comfortable space.

Remember, it’s your legal duty to care for your workers. Our employee assistance programme (EAP) provides 24-hour confidential whistleblowing support for staff dealing with victimisation at the workplace.

How can you prevent victimisation in the workplace?

Here are effective steps you can take to minimise and eliminate signs of victimisation:

Train your managers

Provide training for your managers to help them understand what classes as discrimination and victimisation. They should know what defines them in the Equality Act and enforce that through their management.

Deal with all complaints

You should deal with an employee’s complaint about victimisation, or any other form of discrimination.

Always deal with them as soon as complaints are raised. Investigate the matter to resolve the issue and take suitable action swiftly.

Save all documentation

Save all documents made about the complaint and any written reasons for your decisions.

You should keep accurate records of meetings and other discussions held. This can protect you from discrimination and unfair dismissal claims.

Keep recruitment decisions unbiased

It’s victimisation to withdraw an offer of employment to someone because they’ve previously raised a complaint (or given evidence) of discrimination.

You cannot allow any personal bias to effect decisions for recruiting employees. Educate your hiring managers to ensure no discriminatory judgements are made.

Set a clear and fair recruitment process for the future. That way you can present your recruitment decisions and show your reasons weren’t discriminatory.

Manage references appropriately

It’s good practice to provide references for all your previous employees. You shouldn’t refuse to give a reference to an employee because they previously raised a discrimination claim or gave evidence for one.

Deciding not to provide a reference could be a clear sign of victimisation in a judicial setting.

Get support your staff with Health Assured

Create a healthy workspace and protect your staff members from all forms of victimisation discrimination in the workplace.

One way you can do that is through our employee assistance programme (EAP), which provides advice on all types of employment issues.

Our EAP also comes with a wellbeing app, which your workers can use 24/7 – accessing unlimited wellbeing resources.

For urgent guidance on eliminating victimisation in the workplace, contact us today. Or arrange a call back from a workplace wellbeing expert today on 0844 891 0352.

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