Unfair treatment of an employee at work

Navigating and addressing unfair treatment in your business

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Mar 08, 2024

Unfair treatment at work can have a devastating impact on employees. It can cause them to lose motivation, feel unappreciated, and it can even lead to legal action.

As an employer, it's your responsibility to make sure that your employees are treated fairly and with respect. By taking steps to prevent unfair treatment, you can create a happy and productive work environment, reduce employee turnover, and improve productivity levels and the overall success of your business.

So, let's explore the various forms of unfair treatment at work, how it can negatively impact your business and what steps can be taken to address and prevent it.

A person visibly upset as she's been treated unfairly

Understanding unfair treatment at work

Unfair treatment at work can take many forms, from subtle behaviours to blatant discrimination. In the context of employment, unfair treatment is not just a moral issue but also a legal one.

Here are some examples of unfair treatment at work:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Bullying
  • Unequal pay
  • Unfair promotion
  • Any other exclusion that affects an employee's wellbeing or job performance

You'll need to familiarise yourself with the different types of unfair treatment to effectively address and prevent them.

Unfair treatment and employment laws

While it's not acceptable for anyone to be treated unfairly at work, it's even worse when it breaks the law. That's why it's important to have rules in place to prevent this kind of thing and deal with it immediately while complying with UK employment law.

Workplace bullying refers to any unwanted behaviour from an individual or group that makes your employee feel uncomfortable. While bullying itself is not illegal, it could lead to constructive unfair dismissal claims. And if such behaviour turns into workplace harassment, it can become a legal issue.

This is because harassment in the workplace is a form of discrimination, which is illegal under the Equality Act of 2010.

What makes it harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is related to any of the legally protected characteristics, which are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Maternity and pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

As an employer, it is imperative to recognise and respect these characteristics to create a workplace that thrives on diversity and inclusion.

Failure to do so not only damages the morale of the affected individuals but also opens the door to legal repercussions, including claims that can be brought to an employment tribunal.

A person upset with the demands being placed on him

Legal compliance and following employment law

Adherence to employment law is non-negotiable for employers. Familiarising yourself with the Equality Act and other relevant legislation ensures that your business operates within legal boundaries.

Ignorance of the law is not a valid defence, and failing to follow the rules can result in severe consequences for your business.

Legal consequences

In cases where internal resolution is not possible or satisfactory, employees may choose to escalate the matter to an employment tribunal.

So, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of unfair treatment claims, both in terms of financial implications and damage to your company's reputation.

Taking reasonable steps to prevent unfair treatment

Employers are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent unfair treatment at work. This includes proactive measures such as implementing policies, conducting training, and creating an environment where employees feel safe and valued.

By demonstrating a commitment to preventing unfair treatment, you can build a positive work culture that attracts and retains top talent.

Constructive dismissal

If an employee feels that they have no choice but to resign due to ongoing unfair treatment, it may lead to a claim of constructive dismissal.

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee resigns because the employer has breached the employment contract, creating an unsustainable working environment.

How to prevent unfair treatment at work

Instead of waiting for grievances to escalate to the level of an employment tribunal, employers should take a proactive approach to prevent unfair treatment in the first place.

This involves creating a company culture that values diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities for all employees. To do this, it’s best practice to:

  • Create and enforce anti-bullying and harassment policies
  • Define unacceptable behaviour in company documents
  • Provide mechanisms for reporting incidents
  • Outline consequences for perpetrators

Clearly defined company policies

Establishing and enforcing anti-bullying and harassment policies is a crucial step in preventing unfair treatment. These policies should be well-documented in your employee handbook and should also outline your policies on discrimination, equal opportunities, and grievance and disciplinary procedures.

Just remember to clearly define what is unacceptable behaviour towards other employees, how to report instances of unfair treatment, and how the employee will be held accountable if they participate in unfair treatment.

Regular training sessions can also help raise awareness among employees about what constitutes harassment and the importance of fostering a respectful work environment.

The employee grievance procedure

Employees who believe they have been treated unfairly at work have legal recourse, which should begin with filing a formal complaint through your grievance procedure.

The grievance procedure is a structured process for employees to raise concerns about their treatment at work, providing a platform for you to investigate and address these issues.

The employee disciplinary procedure

Once a grievance of unfair treatment has been investigated you may have to take disciplinary action against the person who committed the unfair treatment. Your disciplinary procedure will shape the action that you take.

Speak to all possible witnesses, gather the facts of the case, and try to work out why the treatment is happening. Then hold a disciplinary hearing, so you can present the evidence to the employee who is accused of the unfair treatment and allow them to tell their side of the story.

The outcome might be that you give the offender a verbal or written warning. A final written warning can be given if it’s not their first offence or if they've failed to improve their conduct after a previous warning.

In cases where you deem the unfair treatment to be gross misconduct, you might decide to dismiss the employee.

Whatever course of action you decide to take, remember you must always go through fair procedures.

Addressing unfair treatment at the source

It's essential for you to address unfair treatment at its source. This involves promoting a culture of open communication, where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents without fear of retaliation.

Regular check-ins with staff members, especially with senior staff can help identify and address issues before they escalate.

An employee being reviewed by 3 managers

Handling discriminatory social media posts

It's important to know that in the age of digital communication, social media can become a breeding ground for unfair treatment and discrimination.

You should establish guidelines for acceptable online behaviour and communicate the consequences of violating these guidelines to your teams.

It's crucial to monitor social media posts that may be derogatory or discriminatory, taking prompt action to address and rectify any instances of inappropriate online behaviour.

Recognising scenarios of being treated unfairly

Unfair treatment can rear its head in various scenarios, impacting the overall wellbeing of employees. It's important that you can recognise when unfair treatment at work is happening in your business.

Here are some scenarios of unfair treatment and the impacts you should be aware of in your workplace:

Discrimination in task assignments

  • Scenario: A seasoned employee consistently receives menial tasks while their younger counterparts are entrusted with more challenging and rewarding assignments.
  • Impact: This not only hampers the individual's professional growth but also creates an atmosphere of inequality within the workplace.

Age discrimination in hiring

  • Scenario: A company chooses to hire younger and cheaper workers while sidelining experienced, older workers for key positions.
  • Impact: Older workers feel undervalued and may bring forward claims of age discrimination, leading to potential legal consequences for the company.

Sexual orientation-based harassment

  • Scenario: Offensive and derogatory comments about an employee's sexual orientation are tolerated within the workplace.
  • Impact: The targeted employee may experience emotional distress, leading to decreased morale and productivity levels. The company also risks legal action under the Equality Act.

Salary inequities

  • Scenario:Employees in similar roles and with comparable qualifications receive significantly different salaries, with no justifiable reason for the wage disparities.
  • Impact: Unequal pay can result in feelings of resentment and demotivation among employees, leading to decreased morale and potential legal challenges.

Overburdening certain employees

  • Scenario: A particular employee is consistently given an overwhelming workload or is assigned tasks beyond their job description, while other workers with similar roles enjoy a more manageable workload.
  • Impact: Overburdened employees may be in a stressful situation, leading to burnout, stress-related health issues, and diminished job performance and satisfaction, leading to higher turnover rates.

Ignoring adjustment requests

  • Scenario: Employees with valid requests for reasonable adjustments, such as modifications to their work environment due to a disability, are consistently ignored or denied.
  • Impact: This not only violates legal obligations but also contributes to a culture of exclusion, making it difficult for employees with disabilities to thrive in the workplace.

Discrimination based on personal relationships

  • Scenario: Management singles out employees based on their personal relationships or friendships within the company, providing benefits or promotions to those with closer ties while ignoring merit-based considerations.
  • Impact: This fosters a toxic work environment where favouritism exists over those who truly deserve it, causing feelings of alienation and distrust among the workforce.

Unequal access to training and development opportunities

  • Scenario: Some employees consistently have access to training programs, workshops, or skill development opportunities, while others with similar aspirations and potential are denied these resources.
  • Impact: Unequal access to training can contribute to a widening skills gap within the workforce, potentially hindering overall company growth and innovation.

Microaggressions and stereotyping

  • Scenario: Employees are subjected to subtle but persistent microaggressions or stereotyping based on their race, gender, or other protected characteristic.
  • Impact: Such behaviour creates a hostile work environment, contributing to increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, and potential mental health issues for affected employees.

Selective enforcement of policies

  • Scenario: Company policies, such as dress code or punctuality, are selectively enforced, with some employees facing repercussions while others, often favoured by management, are exempt.
  • Impact: This erodes trust in the fairness of the workplace, creating a perception of a biased and inconsistent application of rules.

Addressing these examples of unfair treatment requires a commitment from employers to foster a culture of equality, diversity, and inclusion, ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and with respect.

A person being harassed by his manager and overworked

Creating a workplace free from unfair treatment

As an employer, fostering a work environment free from unfair treatment is not only a legal obligation but also a moral imperative.

By understanding the key points associated with unfair treatment at work, recognising the impact of discrimination on employees with protected characteristics (religion, belief, sexual orientation, marriage, or any other factor) and taking proactive measures to prevent unfair treatment, you can create a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

Remember, the success of your business is intricately tied to the wellbeing and satisfaction of your employees. Taking steps to prevent unfair treatment not only enhances your company's reputation but also cultivates a workplace where every individual is valued and respected.

How BrightHR can help?

With BrightHR on your side, taking these steps to tackle unfair treatment is easier than ever. Not to mention the peace of mind you gain, knowing that the steps you take are legally compliant.

Gain end-to-end legal support

Firstly, BrightHR provides you with access to a library of customisable HR documents, including a workplace bullying and harassment policy, staff handbook templates and more. So, you can easily create the documents you need to meet your specific requirements, without having to start from scratch.

Alongside this is a 24/7 employment law advice line, with qualified experts who are always ready to take your call whenever you have a question about unfair treatment at work.

When it comes to making sure your staff follow rules on unfair treatment, BrightHR makes the process simple with unlimited document storage and read receipts. That way all your employees will be able to access your policies and you will get notified when they read them. So, no one can claim that they aren't aware of the rules.

Employees looking happy as unfair treatment at work was avioded

Stay on top of your staff training needs

Raising awareness with training courses is also available with a fully integrated learning management system.

You can assign e-courses like ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Awareness’ to your employees and set notifications to when they are completed. Ensuring that your staff have the knowledge and skills they need to promote a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

Support your employees’ health & wellbeing

Finally, when you operate anti-bullying policies and promote fairness at work, it's important to remember to provide support. BrightHR's wellbeing and counselling services, allow you to provide 24/7 wellbeing support to all who need it via the UK's leading employee assistant programme.

That way, you can help your staff deal with any issues they may be facing and promote a healthy and supportive workplace.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to prevent unfair treatment and create a positive and productive work environment for everyone.

Want to learn more about how BrightHR can help, speak with one of our friendly advisors today.

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