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How to Deal With Unfair Treatment at Work

1st Jul 2013
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The workplace should be somewhere you can rely on being treated fairly and with respect – not somewhere you dread going everyday because you feel bullied or victimised.

Workplace bullying and discrimination can cause many problems for the workforce in general, as well as the individuals affected by it. 22.7 million working days were lost to work-related illness in 2011/12 according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – stress being one of the illnesses blamed for absences. Workers with stress were absent for an average of 24 days to stress in that time, compared to 7.3 for work-related injuries.

Bullying and Harassment

Any type of behaviour that makes you feel intimidated or offended could be construed as harassment – and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. There are many forms of unfair treatment or harassment, and these include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours about you
  • Treating you unfairly
  •  Picking on you
  • Undermining you regularly, even though you’re perfectly competent at your job
  •  Denying you opportunities for promotion or training for no reason

The law on bullying and harassment

The law on bullying and harassment is quite difficult to interpret, so if you feel you’re being badly treated at work and need some help, a good employment rights adviser might be your first port of call.

It’s not actually illegal to bully someone, although it is against the law to harass them. The distinction comes when the unwanted behaviour is related to:

  •  Age
  • [***]
  •  Disability
  • Gender (including gender reassignment)
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  •  Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation

If your manager just takes a dislike to you and makes your life [***], you do have other courses of action that you can take to rectify the issue, but the law takes discrimination more seriously than a clash of personalities or a mean boss.

What to do if you’re being bullied or harassed

If you’re being bullied, your first course of action is to informally approach a line manager, your human resources department or your union rep.

Make notes of any incidents that have caused you distress and any examples of bad treatment or bullying. If you have a union rep or HR department, they might be able to intervene on your behalf, and try to resolve the problem. It could be that the manager doesn’t realise they are offending you, or doesn’t mean to be unfair.

If you don’t have anyone else to approach, because you work for a small company or there isn’t a grievance procedure, contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). If the behaviour isn’t related to one of the ‘protected characteristics’ above, you can’t take your employer to an employment tribunal, but you could involve a workplace mediation service.

If you have to resign

If the bullying isn’t discriminatory, but it gets so bad that it results in you being forced to leave your job, you might have a case for constructive dismissal, in which case you would be able to take your employer to a tribunal.

Constructive dismissal is when an employer’s conduct forces you to resign, and the behaviour must be serious, for example changing your working conditions or allowing you to be bullied or harassed.

Employment tribunals

If the harassment is serious, or you think you might have a case for constructive dismissal, contact ACAS for advice first. There might be a way to resolve the problem without going all the way to a tribunal. The ACAS helpline is 08457 474 747.

You could also try hiring a mediator to see if they can help you find a solution.

If you really don’t have any other choice, again, contact ACAS for advice on how to proceed. They will expect you to have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problem before you go forward with a tribunal, so be prepared to give them details of what you’ve tried so far.

If you’ve been discriminated against, you might be able to get support with your claim from the Equality Advisory Support Service

ACAS has produced an in-depth guide to how to deal with bullying and harassment at work, which gives helpful tips on what to do if it’s happening to you. You can also call them on the Employment Tribunal public enquiry line – 08457 959 775 – for advice on the tribunal procedure, although they can’t give you specific legal advice.

Replies (6)

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By Rhiannon Reid
28th Mar 2017 21:01

I was wanting to know if anyone has any advice - last night around 5pm my partner was admitted into hospital after having been in a car accident and teearing his hand open - As i am the only one around it was up to me to take him to the hospital and stay with him until 430am before we could go home - I had txt my manager (was far too busy to call) to advise her of what i had been up to all evening and that I may be far too tired to come into the office let alone drive - My partner was sent home at 430am and told to go back at 7am for his surgery (which i had to take him to) this meant I only had 2hrs of sleep. When i got to work this morning my manager had a disciplinary meeting regarding my messages saying they were "inappropriate" and "unacceptable" that regardless of how tired I am or what has happened the night before I need to be at work. I am wondering if they really are allowed to enforce this as I am sure there is some sort of Occupational Health & Safety regulation against that. Any advice would be great

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By Marc Aaron Goldbach
18th May 2017 08:16

As employer, I make sure to provide healthy working environment to all employees. It can impact the performance and productivity of all the employees to perform their job. Focusing on solving the problem rather than making it worst.

For employees, my advice is to make sure you know your rights, potential discrimination, harassment, or bullying in the workplace is not acceptable. Report it immediately to your HR or you have the rights to consult: or any legal assistance of your choice.

To deal with unfair treatment at work is never been easy. This blog post shared many pointers. Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts James, many are benefiting for your good inputs.

-Goldbach Law Group

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By Tammie
06th Jan 2018 16:49

The General Manager at my corporation has made it clear to everyone that she hates me, this has been going on for about 10 years now, I have not been treated fairly and been the person they "set an example" with,. The HR manager is on board with her and therefor I have nobody at the site to help me. Recently they "created" a new rule that affected me directly. I no longer could pick up shifts, or give a shift away therefor the only shifts I get are the ones that I am scheduled for. When I asked about this new policy and asked to see it in writing it was then explained to me that it's not a policy but a "directive". After this meeting I emailed corporate head office to ask them, they put the ball back into the site's hand. I was brought in and reprimanded for "breaking the chain of command" immediately after this meeting I was scheduled 1 day to work in 10 which means I worked 3 shifts in 30. This is just the last thing that has happened, I need advice please I feel as though I'm having a nervous breakdown

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By hc1969
21st May 2018 03:11

I'm having a problem wrapping my head around what's been happen at work. I stated this job last year in April. I was told I would have to Tuesdays and Wednesday off then I would get better days off if there would be any changes in the work place. One person decided to leave July 2017. I was told I would be moving to Days and would have Fridays and Saturdays after I got back from vacation.when I got back from vacation they gave my days off to a 2 newer highers. Then I was promise the next days off I would get when next change. Another employee was let go. I told I would get Saturday and Mondays off when they filled the position. Last week we got a new higher and they told him he would get Saturdays and Mondays off. To me this is really unfair and is this discrimination. What can I do about this? I'm worried if I go to HR they will reprimand me over this.

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Replying to hc1969:
By Ecastro94
22nd Jun 2019 18:54

I am experiencing a similar problem, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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