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Victimisation at work

If you’re treated badly because you complain about discrimination or you help someone who’s been discriminated against, this is called victimisation. Victimisation is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

If you’ve been treated badly because you complained, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about victimisation at work.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation is when someone treats you badly because you complain about discrimination or help someone who’s been the victim of discrimination. The treatment you experience may be being labelled a trouble-maker, denied promotion or training or your colleagues may avoid or ignore you.

Because the Equality Act recognises you may be worried about complaining, you have extra legal protection when you complain about discrimination.

If you’re victimised at work and your employer doesn’t take reasonable steps to stop it from happening, you can take action against your employer under the Equality Act. You may also be able to take action against the people who victimise you.

When does the law protect you?

You’re protected against victimisation only if you do one of the following things:

  • make a claim or complaint of discrimination under the Equality Act
  • give evidence or information to help someone else who has made a complaint or claim under the Act
  • do any other thing which is related to the Act
  • say that someone has done something unlawful under the Act.

The Equality Act calls these things protected acts.

You can still be protected against victimisation if the complaint you've made turns out to be mistaken or untrue, so long as you acted in good faith.

Example

You provide a witness statement in support of a colleague who’s raised a grievance about homophobic bullying at work. Your employer thinks both you and your colleague are being over sensitive and reject the grievance and a subsequent appeal.

A few months later you apply for a promotion but your application is turned down although you’re able to show you have the necessary skills and experience. Your manager says you’re a trouble-maker as you helped your colleague and therefore you shouldn’t be promoted.

Providing a witness statement is a protected act, this would therefore be victimisation and you could take action under the Equality Act.

Example

You’ve been made redundant from your job. The reason you were selected for redundancy is because during a recent appraisal with your manager, you complained about sex discrimination by your employer against female staff at work.

Your complaint about sex discrimination at work is a protected act. Being selected for redundancy is therefore victimisation and you can take action against your employer under the Equality Act.

Can you take action about victimisation which happens after your employment has ended?

If you’re victimised by your employer after your employment has ended, the courts have said you can take action under the Equality Act.

Example

Your employer’s dismissed you because of your disability. You’ve started tribunal proceedings under the Equality Act and now your employer has given you a bad reference. You think it’s because you’ve taken action about discrimination. Starting tribunal proceedings is a protected act, so this could be victimisation.

When are you not protected?

You’re not protected against victimisation if you act in bad faith - for example, by making false accusations against your employer or by giving false information in relation to a discrimination claim.

Example

You've applied for a promotion with your employer but you're rejected because you don't have enough experience in your current role. You're angry and make a complaint of race discrimination even though you don't believe it to be true. You also make repeated comments to fellow employees about why you think you weren't given the promotion including comments that some managers are racist.

Your employer disciplines you for making the comments about managers. If you make a claim of victimisation you're unlikely to succeed because the original allegations were not made in good faith.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

Acas

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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