What is victimisation at work?

Victimisation is when you’re poorly treated because you’ve made (or in some way supported) a claim which relates to one or more of the 9 protected characteristics. Importantly, this means you could suffer victimisation in the workplace even if you don’t have one of these protected personal attributes.

There are several types of unlawful discrimination in the UK; victimisation is just one.  If you would like to learn more about discrimination in the workplace, it may be helpful to read our article on direct and indirect discrimination

The Equality Act 2010

Victimisation is defined by the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). In order to make a successful claim for victimisation, you must:  

  1. do a “protected act” (or your employer must believe you have done or will do) and
  2. suffer a “detriment” because of that protected act.

What’s a protected act?

A protected act is when you:

  • make a complaint of discrimination, formally or informally 
  • provide evidence or information for a colleague’s complaint of discrimination
  • do anything else related to the Act - for example, raising awareness of unlawful discrimination among your colleagues
  • complain that someone has done anything else that is unlawful under the Act. 

What’s a detriment?

A detriment is something that is done or not done to you which puts you in a worse position than before. The Act doesn’t provide a list of actions / behaviours which are detrimental, but here are some common examples:

  • bullying
  • dismissal
  • lack of promotion opportunities
  • being given harder or more tedious tasks
  • degrading or humiliating comments
  • social exclusion
  • unreasonable disciplinary action
  • lack of fair procedure
  • denying access to training.

The definition of a detriment is potentially very wide. Think of it this way - has something happened that’s put you in a worse position than before? If so, you have suffered a detriment. 

If you’ve done a protected act, and you’ve suffered a detriment, you must then be able to show that the detriment was because of the protected act.

Timescales

It doesn’t matter how much time has passed between you doing a protected act and then suffering a detriment. However, once the detriment has happened, you must make any claim to the Employment Tribunal within three months (minus one day). 

Examples of victimisation

These are examples of situations which could be unlawful victimisation in the workplace:

  • not giving you a pay slip after you raised a claim of sex discrimination
  • dismissing you because your employer thinks you might bring an age discrimination claim in the future
  • giving you a poor reference because you complained of maternity discrimination during your employment 
  • dismissing you after finding out you raised a race discrimination case against a previous employer
  • threatening to dismiss you because you intend to support a colleague’s transgender discrimination claim
  • reducing your hours after you give evidence in support of a colleague’s disability discrimination case 

Bad faith

If you make or support a discrimination complaint in bad faith (meaning you act dishonestly) and then suffer a detriment, you’re not protected from victimisation. However, if you make or support a claim in good faith, you’re protected from victimisation even if your allegations turn out to be incorrect. 

What to do if you feel victimised at work

It takes courage to speak out against discrimination in the workplace, whether it’s happening to you or a colleague. To then be disadvantaged because of that bravery is against the law. If you think you may have been victimised, you might want to speak to your employer informally. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, raising a formal grievance might be the next step. At Valla, we’re here to help you understand your rights and gather the evidence you need to make your case. Sign up for your free account to get started.