Workplace Victimisation

11 August 2022

As an employer, you must ensure all employees are allowed to raise concerns comfortably.

When they face grief or ill-treatment because of their claim, it’s called victimisation.  

If you neglect or fail to manage an employee’s complaint, they’ll start to feel undervalued and disrespected during work.

They could either decide to leave or raise a further complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.  If you are found guilty, you could face hefty fines and reputational damages. 

In this guide, we’ll look at what victimisation is, Ireland’s laws on it, and how to eliminate it from your work environment. 

What is victimisation?

Victimisation is when an employee experiences adverse or unfavourable treatment because they raised a grievance. In Irish law, the term is also referred to as ‘penalisation’

They may raise a complaint because something happened to them, a colleague, or during work. 

All employees have employment rights which apply throughout their careers. Raising a claim is also a legal right–therefore they cannot be treated badly (victimised) because of them.

(When an employee is treated differently because they raised a complaint, it's called victimisation).

What is an example of victimisation at work?

There are several examples of how an employee faces victimisation at work. These can derive from forcing an unfavourable change to work proceedings, to unfairly dismissing someone.

Here are some examples in the workplace:

  • A part-time worker was not given the right amount of pay, compared to their full-time colleagues. This goes against the general terms of their contract; so, they end up reporting breaches to the HR department. Before the case could be discussed, the employer threatened to dismiss them if they continued.
  • An employee noticed a serious hazard and states the company must contact the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). The employer ignored the evidence but was reprimanded for it. After this, the employer bullied the employee for giving evidence against them.
  • An employee was promoted and now manages their previous team. The team members make rude and indirect remarks about how they got the role. The new manager decides not to raise complaints against them; and continues with their managerial functions. Due to the nature of the adverse treatment, it counts as victimisation.

If the action can’t be justified on objective grounds, it counts as only victimisation. Otherwise, it could possibly include bullying and harassment.

Ireland’s laws on workplace victimisation

There is no specific legislation on victimisation in Ireland. However, it does come under equal right laws. Under the Employment Equality Acts 2015, employees are protected from victimisation during work.

The legislation states an employer cannot discriminate against anyone based on nine characteristics. For example:

If an employee believes they were treated unfairly based on a protected act, they could raise a legal claim against you.

These claims are discussed through the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). And if you’re found guilty, you could face paying compensation and damaging your business’ reputation.

Is victimisation the same as discrimination? 

The same legislation, the Employment Equality Acts, also states victimisation comes under discrimination. It’s part of four elements:

  1. Direct discrimination: This is when an employer treat’s someone unfavourably or unlawfully.
  2. Indirect discrimination: This is when an employer dismisses or excludes an entire group based on a protected characteristic. 
  3. Harassment: This is when an employer demonstrates unfair treatment or misconduct towards another without their consent. 
  4. Victimisation: This is when an employer mistreats someone because they raised a complaint against you.

(Victimisation is one of the four elements of discrimination).

How to eliminate victimisation in the work environment

Employers need to be proactive in eliminating work victimisation and all other forms of discrimination.

When your business respects the value of fairness and equality, employees can comfortably speak up about concerns, without fearing consequences. Here are ways to eliminate victimisation at work:

Manage victimisation claims efficiently

Employees may face several reasons for raising a victimisation complaint. It could derive from unfair or adverse treatment from colleagues, managers, and even customers.

Whatever their reasons are, you need to manage their claim efficiently. Make sure your disciplinary procedures and policies include rules on all forms of discrimination–and especially how misconduct is dealt with.

Deal with each complaint form accordingly. Some cases can be resolved through a formal grievance procedure; whilst others will need external judgement, or even tribunal input.

Provide equality training for your management

One of the most effective methods for eliminating victimisation, is to provide equality training.

By doing so, your managers can actively ensure equal and inclusive treatment throughout daily work. Hold zero-tolerance for discrimination; and build a culture of respect and awareness.

Make sure you provide training on anti-discrimination as well. This is especially helpful during cases where racial discrimination is tied in. 

Keep business decisions unbiased

Remember, all employees can raise legal action of victimisation. You cannot hold that against them–so, make sure all business decisions are unbiased.

For example, you cannot deny someone a promotional opportunity because they provided evidence for a misconduct claim. The two factors are separate therefore, you cannot hold personal biases against them.

To follow fair proceedings during these times, ensure your staff that all business decisions are free from unlawful discrimination. For areas like promotions or recruitment, you can even make final decisions through a team of senior members.  

Manage references professionally

When any employee decides to leave, it’s good business practice to provide references. 

You cannot refuse to give one to an employee who raised a complaint or grievance. It is both unprofessional and discriminatory–and is a clear sign of victimisation.

Manage their references professionally and provide an honest character review for them. You can even ask another colleague or manager to provide their input, so the reference is well balanced.

Get expert advice on eliminating victimisation with Peninsula

As an employer, you have a legal and moral duty to eliminate all cases of discrimination in your business.

If any employee feels they were treated unfairly because they raised a complaint, they could decide to leave your business. And ignoring employment legislation can lead to tribunal hearings and reputational damages.

Peninsula offers expert advice on eliminating victimisation. Our HR services allow safeguarding for employment rights–helping you grow a happier and safer workspace. 

We also offer 24/7 HR advice that’s available 365 days a year. Get in contact with fully trained counsellors who are ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. Contact 0844 891 0353

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