Victimisation in the Workplace

25 April 2024 | Blog

Victimisation in the Workplace refers to any unfair treatment towards an employee based on factors such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic protected by law. There are forms of mistreatment such as discrimination, harassment, bullying and intimidation. Victims of this treatment can often experience negative impacts upon their emotional wellbeing, job performance and physical health.

Addressing victimisation in the workplace is vital for numerous reasons. One of which is Employee Wellbeing, which can have severe psychological effects on the victim. In turn having effects on stress and anxiety levels. If an employee is unfairly treated, they are more likely to look elsewhere for their employment.

There are laws in place that organisations must follow, in order to protect employees from discrimination, harassment and other forms of victimisation in the workplace. Punishments for failing to adhere to these laws include fines, lawsuits, and reputational damage.

A respectful and fair culture is essential for creating a positive work environment where all employees are happy and supported. By ignoring victimisation, the employer would be demonstrating a clear disregard to employee wellbeing.

Talent retention is key for any organisation to be successful and contributes to a positive employee culture. Increased turnover rates can be seen as unnecessary costs for the business, and the organisation will spend time recruiting when they could have avoided it, if they prioritised employee wellbeing.

Types of Victimisations

There are three forms of Victimisation we will be highlighting here – Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.

Firstly, Discrimination is victimised against based on aspects such as race, age, or gender.

An employer may discriminate against their employee depending on their race. This is when an employee is treated unfairly based on their race or ethnicity. This can be through the form of hiring process, job promotions and their salary.

Gender discrimination can exist in many different forms, such as differing pay scales, job promotions or a lack of opportunities depending on their gender.

Lastly, older employees can be discriminated against due to their age, particularly during the recruitment process or redundancy process. The same can be said for younger employees. It is important to treat all employees the same regardless of their age.

Next up, we will look at Harassment in the Workplace, including offensive or intimidating behaviour in the work environment. Unwanted sexual harassment, sexual requests or verbal / physical / visual sexual conduct, all falls under the umbrella  of sexual harassment. If an employee is to experience any of this, it can directly impact their job performance and mental wellbeing.

Bullying in the workplace, through the forms of mistreatment or intimidation, is not something any employee should ever experience. This behaviour can be physical or verbal, and sometimes psychological. It is important to always highlight this form of behaviour to your line manager.

Threats and / or aggressive behaviour forms part of intimidation behaviour in the workplace. This can create a toxic working environment, making victims feel in the wrong and unsure who and / or how to ask for help.

Retaliation occurs when an employee engages in activities such as whistleblowing. Whistleblowing is when an employee reports illegal or unethical behaviour within the organisation. If it was to become common knowledge that an employee has whistle blown, then their employees may retaliate against them.

Impact on Employees

It is important to note that this behaviour can have a severe psychological effect on someone. Stress and anxiety levels may rise if an employee has to deal with discriminative behaviour. Employees may have a constant fear about going into work, making it an unpleasant experience for them.

An employee may suffer from depression if exposed to victimisation in the workplace. An employee may notice a lack of interest in their work, difficulty concentrating and a general negative feeling towards their work and colleagues.

Decreased productivity is another factor that may affect employees in the workplace. If an employee is feeling victimised against, they may resent coming to work, as constant stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on decision-making abilities, resulting in decreased productivity.

An employee may have a general feeling of job dissatisfaction. The associated factors with victimisation, such as bullying and harassment, will impact on someone’s job satisfaction and overall morale, both in the workplace and out with. This can lead to increased turnover rates for an organisation, which creates further problems for the organisation.

Employees may also notice an effect on their physical health. Problems such as cardiovascular issues can come from an increased level of stress and anxiety, due to workplace issues.

A positive and healthy sleep pattern is key to good work performance. But if an employee is feeling heightened levels of stress and anxiety, their sleep may be impact as a result of this. Lack of sleep can progress negative mental wellbeing and, in – turn, having on job satisfaction and job performance.

Legal Framework

There is legal framework in place to protect employees from victimisation in the workplace. We’ll take a look at the three main pieces of legislation, designed to protect employees.

The Equality Act 2010 prevents discrimination, harassment, and victimisation due to protected characteristics such as age, disability, race or religion. Employers must follow this act or face legal action from the victim in question.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects employees who have whistleblown and been unfairly dismissed. Employees who share wrongdoing in the workplace, are protected from victimisation due to The Employment Rights Act 1996.

It is unlawful to harassment someone, including employees, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Victims of harassment in the workplace may seek legal action if they are harassed against.

Prevention and Intervention

It is important to have clear and concise policies in place to prevent victimisation in the workplace, and to also help create a safe and respectful working environment.

An Anti – Discrimination and Harassment policy will define the rules surrounding discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. It will also deter any workplace issues that may arise from this.

A Whistleblowing policy encourages employees to report on wrong behaviour in the workplace, without the associated fear of retaliation. There should be mechanisms provides for confidentiality.

It is important that all employees are trained on this subject. Diversity and Inclusion training is something that should be commonplace in any workplace. Training can help educate your employees on the rights and wrongs in the workplace, particularly on Victimisation.

 Harassment Prevention training is something to consider as well. This training provides a clear understanding of what harassment is, different forms of harassment. As well as how to identify, report and prevent harassment.

The HR Booth provide training on a range of subjects, you can find out more here.

The HR department must be visible and easily approachable, especially in regard to victimisation and harassment. It is paramount that there is a level of confidentiality and impartiality throughout all investigations.

Likewise, Managers must also be visible and easy to talk to for employees. Often, if an employee has an issue, they will go to their line manager first. This is part and parcel of a manager’s responsibilities.

All the different departments within an organisation must work together to build support networks for their workforce. They should aim to create a positive culture, with a high level of trust and respect within the work environment.

Victimisation in the workplace is a serious issue, and one that must not be overlooked, as the consequences for this can be serious for both employee and employer. Unfair treatment on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age or religion, along with discrimination, harassment, bullying and retaliation will also fall under victimisation at the workplace.

It is important, as an employer, that you address these issues as and when you find out about them. Firstly, employee wellbeing will be directly impacted, which can cause an increased level of stress and anxiety within an employee. Job satisfaction and staff retention will all decrease, as employees seek a more positive working environment elsewhere.

Organisation now also have legal obligations to follow here, with acts such as Equality Act 2010, Employment Rights Act 1996 and Protection from Harassment 1997, all provide protection for employees in situations like this. There are punishments such as fines, law suits and reputational damage.

Implementing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, encouraging whistleblowing and providing adequate and relevant training, will all work towards effective prevention of victimisation in the workplace. HR Departments, Line Managers and employee support networks all play a vital role in creating a positive workplace culture based around trust and respect.

Organisations that prioritise the health and wellbeing of their employees will create a successful culture, a place where employees are happy and satisfied, and that they will thrive in. The benefits are never-ending, but include an improved financial performance, improved overall performance and developing a strong reputation. A business with a positive culture is an attractive place to work. This is something we strongly advise all businesses aim for in the long – run.

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