You may recall a landmark case from 2013, in which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) confirmed that a British Airways employee had the right to wear her religious jewellery at work. This employee has now brought a claim of victimisation against the same employer, believing she has been treated unfairly following her successful claim.
Employers need to ensure staff are protected from victimisation, meaning individuals must not be subjected to any detriment because they have either carried out a protected act, or the employer suspects they intend to carry out a protected act. Examples of protected acts include lodging a complaint under the Equality Act 2010, giving evidence in connection with a complaint under the Act or reporting an employer to a relevant governing body for failing to abide by the Act.
In order to protect employees from victimisation the first step will be to create a workplace policy. This is often combined into a general policy which covers other forms of inappropriate behaviour covered by the Equality Act such as bullying and discrimination. Successful policies should specifically outline an employee’s right to be protected from victimisation at work, as well as the correct method for reporting any allegations.
It will also be important to train staff at all levels on the risks associated with victimisation. Many employers do so as part of the standard induction process, choosing to use common workplace scenarios as examples for staff who may be less familiar with the parameters of victimisation. Staff should also be warned of the dangers of workplace banter, which despite being well intentioned, could constitute bullying and victimisation under certain circumstances.
To avoid claims of victimisation employers should be consistent in the way they approach rules around topics such as lateness, annual leave and sickness absence. A failure to remain consistent could easily lead to claims of victimisation from employees who may believe they are being treated unfavourably in comparison with their colleagues due to their involvement in a protected act.
Victimisation may also occur when making decisions regarding promotions and employers must ensure these are based on experience and suitability for the role as opposed to involvement in any protected act. It is therefore important that the decision making process is transparent and involves clear criteria which is made available to all employees. Employers are also encouraged to keep concise records of the decision making process in case an individual who has been denied promotion brings forward a claim for victimisation.
Failure to prevent victimisation could be incredibly costly for employers, therefore it is important to ensure all staff are treated equally.