I see a range of clients from junior staff right up to senior executives who have been unlawfully treated by employers. It can begin with a hunch on the part of the employee that something is not right, but that instinct is sadly often right.
It has become a very employer friendly world since the introduction in 2013 of Employment Tribunal fees and compulsory early conciliation through ACAS. Following the changes, the number of employment law claims has reduced dramatically and we are seeing some employers taking more risks in how they deal with employees.
Examples of being treated unfairly in the workplace
Whilst every case is different, common issues can include unequal pay, where a woman is paid less than a male colleague for doing the same job for example, and bullying at work, where an employee’s working life is made intolerable and pressure is put on them to resign and discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability or sexual orientation. Discrimination against women who face redundancy before, during or after maternity leave and who feel that the outcome of the redundancy process is pre-determined and not genuine seems to be a real problem which is not going away.
How to ensure everyone is treated fairly at work:
- How not to get sued by your PA: Lessons from celebrity lawsuits
- How businesses can protect themselves from unfair dismissal claims
- How to reduce the risk of being sued by an employee
However, unfair treatment doesn’t just happen to women. Men may be subjected to excessive work demands so that they are set up to fail. Alternatively, they may be excluded at work or taken out of the loop and not invited to important and relevant meetings. They may consider themselves to be constructively dismissed.
Even employees who feel they are doing the right thing by reporting wrongdoing in a company can experience problems. Whilst many businesses might openly encourage an open and blame free culture, whistleblowing is not always dealt with appropriately by employers and can result in the person who has reported wrongdoing being treated as the guilty party.
What to do if you think you’re being treated unfairly at work
Whilst every case is different, there are some important points to consider before taking action if you think you are being treated unfairly at work:
(1) Know your rights: as well as checking your employment contract, understand your company’s policies on disciplinary and grievance matters, bullying and harassment, equal opportunities and whistleblowing. This should enable you to identify more readily whether you are being treated unfairly.
(2) Keep records: keeping a discreet record of events, e-mails, dates, times and conversations in relation to your treatment will make it easier for you, or someone on your behalf, to argue your points.
(3) Seek advice: most good solicitors will be able to tell you via the telephone for free your rights in a broad sense and whether you have a case.
(4) Consider a subject access request: under the Data Protection Act, you can for a small cost, request copies of any personal data that your employer holds about you. This could include emails between other members of staff about you, HR records, telephone transcripts and minutes of meetings where you have been discussed. This should be a focused request covering a specific time period.
(5) Act swiftly but not in haste: in most cases, there is a three-month time limit in which to make a notification to ACAS in advance of bringing an Employment Tribunal claim. This important time limit is not widely known. Employees should not wait for internal procedures to be exhausted before taking action.
(6) Don’t resign on the spur of the moment: whilst the temptation can be great to walk away and bring a case after doing so, this is a bad idea unless you clearly state in your letter of resignation that you consider yourself to have been constructively dismissed and that your employer has breached your employment contract. Be very clear about this in your letter.
Rhian Radia is a partner and head of employment law at Hodge Jones & Allen.
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