What is victimisation – and how can businesses deal with it?

Sarah Burke offers guidance for employers around how they can best tackle victimisation in the workplace

Image credit: invincible_bulldog/iStock/Getty Images

Victimisation in the workplace occurs when an individual is treated unfairly for making (or allegedly making) and/or supporting a complaint relating to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. 

Victimisation also takes many forms such as micro-managing, raising unfounded performance concerns, isolating individuals, harassment, dismissal and bullying in the workplace or online. 

Unfortunately, despite equality laws being in place, victimisation in the workplace still occurs, either through conscious or subconscious unfair treatment. The impact of this is that employers are losing good members of staff, seeing an effect on productivity, and having to face the time and cost of dealing with issues and claims. 

So how can employers tackle victimisation in the workplace to ensure a fair and effective workplace? Ultimately, the key element is the culture in the workplace, and employers need to ensure that they have a fair, open, informed and accepting culture. Taking the following steps can help create this culture: 

Training staff

One of the main ways to tackle victimisation in the workplace is to ensure members of staff understand what it is, what the law says and what behaviour the employer expects. You can’t tackle a problem unless people know it exists and understand the issues and penalties. Therefore, ensuring that all members of staff receive regular training regarding equality and diversity is key to ensuring a fair and culturally diverse workplace. In addition, managers and senior leaders in the business should have more detailed training to ensure they can spot the warning signs of victimisation early, tackle the issues and ensure they are leading by example. 

Clear policies and procedures

It is also vitally important for employers to ensure that they have clear policies and procedures in place to deal with equality and diversity. Policies should make it clear how to report concerns and issues and how the employer will deal with unlawful, unfair or inappropriate conduct. The types of policies employers should have in place include (but are not limited to):

  • equal opportunities;

  • anti-harassment and bullying;

  • whistleblowing;

  • code of conduct;

  • grievance;

  • disciplinary procedures.

These policies should be reviewed regularly and updated and incorporated into the training that members of staff receive. They should also be used when an issue does arise. 

Open and inclusive environment

Another way to help tackle this issue is to encourage an open environment and culture by:

  • Building knowledge about different characteristics and encouraging open forums to discuss diversity. 

  • Ensuring that complaints are handled sensitively, fairly and in a timely manner. Staff should be encouraged to report issues and be able to trust that they will be dealt with fairly and without penalty. 

  • Encouraging informal discussions regarding concerns to take place with managers who will listen should also help deal with issues early before they snowball. 

  • Employers should be careful how they deal with complaints even if on the face of it they seem spurious, trivial or made out of bad faith. 

Undertaking the above actions and tackling unfair treatment in the workplace will not only help an employer create a positive working environment and avoid employment tribunal claims, it will also ensure that the organisation:

  • protects the health and general wellbeing of staff; 

  • retains staff (which is challenging in the current climate);

  • attracts good quality candidates;

  • ensures it runs smoothly and effectively; 

  • minimises the time and cost of dealing with complaints, issues and claims. 

Sarah Burke is a senior associate employment solicitor at Coffin Mew