Dealing with unfair treatment at work

Dealing with unfair treatment at work

Work should be a rewarding environment. Yes, we all have bad days, but if you have a job with supportive colleagues and managers you should expect to be happy in your work most of the time. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Some employees may end up facing unfair treatment at work, and this can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health as well as making the workplace a difficult place to be, no matter how generously they may be paid for what they do.

When you are facing unfair treatment at work it can take a while to realise that it’s not you that’s the problem but the person or people handing out the unfair treatment. It’s also sometimes not so easy to recognise that the way you’re being treated may actually be classed as discrimination, and is therefore against the law.

We talked this through with Richard Owen, our Job Law Employment and Discrimination Specialist who has over 35 years’ experience in this field, and Associate Employment Solicitor Azra Choudry, who has recently joined Richard to help people facing challenges with their employment. We asked Richard and Azra about how to spot unfair treatment in the workplace, and this is what they had to say:

Unfair treatment at work – and when is this discrimination?

We live in a diverse and vibrant society and our law recognises these differences, giving everyone a right to be protected equally under the Equality Act 2010. This legislation defines the nine ‘protected characteristics’ as:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

If you think you are being unfairly treated, and this has anything to do with any of these protected characteristics, chances are you are being discriminated against at work.

How to spot unfair treatment at work and what to do next

Richard and Azra describe how unfair treatment at work can stem from small issues relating to the way your Manager or colleagues interact with you.

Types of unfair treatment in the workplace can include:

  • Bullying (e.g. being shouted at or humiliated in front of colleagues);
  • Being given an excessive workload;
  • Being expected to achieve unrealistic targets;
  • Micro-management;
  • Exclusion from team activities, meetings and challenges;
  • Being picked on or singled out by Managers or colleagues;
  • Not being given the opportunity to participate in training or personal development.

If you notice you are being treated differently at work compared with other employees you should raise your concerns with your employer, but Richard and Azra also suggest you might find it helpful to follow these guidelines first:

1) check your contract – make sure you are familiar with your employment contract to understand what it is you agreed upon starting your employment and what has happened since;

2) keep a record – if you feel you are being treated unfairly make sure you keep a record of dates, emails, texts and events that may help you if you need to prove your case in the future;

3) act quickly but not on the spur of the moment – whilst you should act as quickly as possible when you feel you are being mistreated we would advise against resigning immediately without getting advice first. You should always consider making a formal grievance to your employer to try to resolve the issues. If you do feel you have to resign make sure you explain the reasons in writing.

Am I being discriminated against?

Sometimes the motive behind the unfair treatment can relate to one of more of the protected characteristics that we mentioned earlier, and in that case it may be classed as discrimination. For example,

One of the most common forms of discrimination found in the workplace relates to disability. According to research carried out by Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, a staggering 48% of survey participants were unware of their rights as disabled employees. The report also goes on to say that 1 in 4 also believed they had missed out on securing a job due to their condition or impairment.

A report from the Young Women’s Trust also outlines issues like gender discrimination to be a lot more common within the workplace than you might think. For example 23% of woman aged 16 – 30 admitted that they had faced sexual harassment at work but only 8% of these women reported their situation.

The Race at Work report published findings that showed 28% of employees from Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) backgrounds had experienced racial harassment or bullying from their manager in the last five years.

If you think you are experiencing some of these issues or other unfair treatment associated with the nine protected characteristics, and wonder whether you may have a potential discrimination case against your employer, Azra suggests that it is always best to compare how you are being treated against other colleagues without your protected characteristic first. Ask yourself, compared to my colleagues …

1. Am I being treated unfairly?

2. What is the reason for the treatment?

3. Am I being treated differently to others?

4. Am I being put at a disadvantage compared to others?

5. Is there a direct link, or explicit words or actions, connecting the treatment and my protected characteristic e.g. specifically relating to gender, race, disability etc.

6. Is there another plausible explanation for the treatment?

If, having considered these points, you think the unfair treatment is due to your protected characteristics you should read this article from Citizens Advice which provides you a clear 3 step plan on what to do next if you think you are being discriminated against at work.

Seek Advice from Job Law

If you feel like you have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace you may want to talk it through with an employment law specialist before you take action. Richard Owen and Azra Choudry are here to help.

Get in touch today at