If someone is being treated unfairly at work, it’s important to know what type of treatment they’re experiencing as there are different legal rights and obligations, depending on which of the following is taking place:
- Discrimination (including victimisation)
While there’s no legal definition of bullying, it can generally be described as unwanted behaviour from a person or group that is either:
- Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
- An abuse or misuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or causes physical or emotional harm to someone
The bullying can be a one-off incident or follow a regular pattern of behaviour.
It can happen face-to-face, on social media, in emails or calls at work, or in other work-related situations.
Examples of bullying could include:
- Microaggressions Microaggressions – brief and common daily verbal, behavioural, and environmental communications, whether intentional or unintentional, that transmit hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to a target person because they belong to a stigmatised group. Close
- Being undermined or humiliated
- Unjustified criticisms of work
- Being ignored or excluded from work or social activities
- Constantly being put down or picked on
- Threats to job security
- Being set up to fail
- Inappropriate or offensive comments
Being bullied can make an individual doubt themselves and have a long-term, negative impact on self-confidence, wellbeing and health.
Legal protection for employees
There’s no specific or single law against bullying at work – it’s not possible to bring a free-standing claim about bullying.
However, people aren’t without legal protection.
For example, depending on the circumstances, bullying can constitute unlawful discrimination and harassment, and can lead to unfair constructive dismissal and breach of contract or claims for Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and personal injury as well as breaches of health and safety rules.
Under the Equality Act 2010, there are three forms of unlawful harassment:
- General harassment
General harassment involves unwanted conduct connected to certain ‘protected characteristics’.
These protected characteristics are:
- Gender reassignment
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Harassment has the purpose or effect of either violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
A person’s conduct can count as harassment even if it was unintentional, they were wrong about a characteristic, they were unaware the conduct was unwanted or the behaviour was directed at someone else.
- Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of:
- Violating someone’s dignity, whether intended or not
- Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for someone, whether intended or not
- Less favourable treatment
Harassment also includes when someone experiences less favourable treatment because of how they respond to sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.
For example, an individual receives several sexual advances from their manager, but rejects them, and then the manager then gives them a bad performance review that’s unjustified.
This could count as harassment if the poor performance review was because of the rejected advances.
TIME’S UP UK insists on safe, fair and dignified work for everyone and provides tools and further signposting to tackle sexual harassment and related forms of discrimination.
Legal protection for employees
Employers must do all they reasonably can to protect staff from harassment and prevent it from happening.
Acas guidance on harassment provides useful advice on how to handle any complaints.
Harassment and discrimination are unlawful – a person is protected by law regardless of employment status or contract length.
- Direct discrimination: Treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic. For example, rejecting a job applicant because they are Black and Global Majority.
- Indirect discrimination: Provision, criteria or practice that applies to everyone but adversely affects people with a particular protected characteristic more than others and isn’t justified. For example, requiring a job to be done full-time rather than part-time may adversely affect women because they generally have greater childcare commitments than men. Such a requirement would be discriminatory unless it can be justified.
- Harassment: See our section above on harassment.
- Victimisation: Retaliation against someone who has complained or has supported someone else’s complaint about discrimination.
The protected characteristic of race includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.
Examples of race discrimination could include:
- A member of the Black and Global Majority being treated detrimentally because of a race discrimination complaint they have raised (this is victimisation)
- Racist language being used but dismissed as ‘banter’ (this is harassment)
- Someone not being employed because of their nationality
Almost three in five Black and Global Majority workers have experienced racial harassment or discrimination in the industry, according to the Film and TV Charity’s Looking Glass report.
Black Bectu network is for Global Majority people working in the creative industries to connect and articulate experiences and concerns.
Disability discrimination includes:
- Direct and indirect discrimination
- Any unjustified less favourable treatment because of the effects of a disability
- Failure to make reasonable adjustments to alleviate disadvantages caused by a disability
Making reasonable adjustments in relation to disability (physical or mental) is a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010.
For example, recruitment processes and the working environment should be set up to accommodate d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent people.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission provide useful examples of how to make reasonable adjustments.
Deaf and Disabled People in TV is an online forum for d/Deaf, Disabled and Neurodivergent people to receive peer-to-peer support.
Legal protection for employees
If an individual experiences discrimination under the Equality Act they have legal protections and access to a tribunal from day one of employment.
Trade union membership provides individuals with free legal support and individuals can also access Bectu’s legal scheme.
Acas guidance on discrimination provides helpful advice on rights and responsibilities.
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