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How to prevent unfair treatment at work

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Unfair Treatment At Work

Unfair treatment at work is a difficult issue that is unfortunately likely to occur at some point within your organisation. It’s therefore important that you’re equipped with a good understanding of relevant legislation, and have outlined a clear approach to support employees should they be unfairly treated at work.

In this guide, we’re going to explore the signs of unfair treatment at work, your legal obligations surrounding unfair treatment at work in the UK, and how to prevent and deal with instances of employees being treated unfairly at work.

What is unfair treatment at work?

Unfair treatment at work refers to any behaviour or practice that discriminates against or mistreats employees. This can include favouritism, harassment, or providing unequal opportunities based on race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics. It may also involve unfair workload distribution or denial of reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These practices undermine a fair and inclusive workplace environment, and can impact employee morale, productivity and overall organisational success.

Law and employee rights for unfair treatment at work in the UK

The laws that protect employees from unfair treatment at work in the UK are the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. The Employment Rights Act gives employees various rights related to unfair dismissal, redundancy and workplace grievances, while the Equality Act consolidates and strengthens anti-discrimination laws to protect individuals from unfair treatment based on protected characteristics.

While bullying is not technically illegal, harassment is classified as being illegal under the Equality Act 2010. It’s therefore important to make sure you understand what constitutes harassment from a legal perspective.

According to the law, bullying becomes harassment if the unwanted behaviour is related to a protected characteristic. This includes:

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

What are the differences between bullying and harassment?

When considering unfair treatment at work in the UK, it’s important to understand the differences between bullying and harassment. Harassment is illegal and refers to unwanted behaviours relating to an individual’s protected characteristics, such as age, sex or disability. Bullying, on the other hand, involves unwanted behaviours that don’t target these specific characteristics and isn’t covered under specific legal protections.

Examples of being unfairly treated at work

Unfair treatment at work comes in many forms. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t just mean discriminating against some employees; being unfairly treated at work can also refer to instances of favouritism.


Signs of unfair treatment at work include behaviours such as:

● Rewarding or disciplining some employees differently than others
● Repeatedly passing over certain employees for promotions or training opportunities
● Excluding employees from meetings, projects or social events
● Holding certain employees to higher standards than others
● Subjecting employees to hostile verbal, physical or psychological behaviour

What can happen if employees are treated unfairly at work?

Employees who are unfairly treated at work are more likely to feel disengaged and unhappy in their roles, which can contribute to higher rates of staff turnover. This can have a negative impact on employee morale, and can lead to reduced productivity and increased recruitment and training expenses.

Depending on the severity of the situation, you may find your business at risk of a human rights claim, which can have serious legal implications. As well as the financial cost of legal fees or paying a settlement, these types of disputes can have a negative impact on your organisation’s reputation, both in your industry and in the eyes of the general public.

Adequately managing unfair treatment at work is particularly important for small-to-medium sized businesses, as they may find it harder to allocate appropriate resources to mitigate and manage the risk of employees being treated unfairly at work. Similarly, strained interpersonal relationships and the potential for talent loss within these smaller teams can be devastating for the business.

How to prevent employees being unfairly treated at work

Making sure you have the right processes in place to prevent unfair treatment at work is essential for maintaining a fair and inclusive workplace.
Let’s take a look at what that could look like in your organisation.

1. Ensure transparent workplace policies

By having transparent policies in the workplace, employees are better able to understand what is expected of them, and what they can expect from the organisation. For example, if the requirements for promotion eligibility are clearly outlined and available to all employees, this reduces the chances of favouritism and ensures that promotions are based on merit.
As well as ensuring that policies regarding promotions, evaluations and disciplinary actions are clearly defined and readily available for employees to access, it’s important to make sure that all rules and procedures are applied consistently. Discrepancies in application can result in employees being treated unfairly at work and could even constitute harassment or discrimination.

2. Promote cultural diversity

Promoting cultural diversity means actively encouraging a diverse workforce, including individuals of different races, ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. This inclusivity can help you to create a healthy multicultural working environment where all employees feel valued and respected.

Implementing diversity training programs can help employees recognise and mitigate unconscious biases, creating a fairer workplace for everyone. As well as minimising unfair treatment at work, cultural diversity helps to bring fresh ideas and perspectives into the organisation, driving innovation and supporting problem-solving initiatives.

3. Create robust grievance and disciplinary procedures

Making sure you have comprehensive grievance and disciplinary procedures can help your organisation to address complaints and inappropriate conduct consistently. It’s also important to clearly communicate to employees what the process for making complaints is, and what steps will be taken to investigate their grievance.
When employees know that they can report issues confidentially and that their concerns will be addressed impartially, it fosters trust and accountability. Robust procedures also guide those in HR or management roles, ensuring that each issue is dealt with appropriately and in line with company policy.

4. Carry out regular line manager training

Regular line manager training involves providing ongoing education and resources on leadership skills, legal responsibilities and best practices for managing staff. As well as training them on how to treat employees fairly, it’s important that managers understand how to recognise and address unconscious bias to prevent discriminatory practices.
Training helps managers to understand why certain policies are in place, and the legal precedent behind them, reducing the risk of employees being unfairly treated at work. They should be fully aware of the company’s policies relating to grievances, inappropriate conduct, harassment and discrimination, and how to apply them consistently.

How to respond to unfair treatment at work

When an employee reports being treated unfairly at work, it’s important to follow a structured procedure to ensure an appropriate, consistent response. Take care to practise empathy and confidentiality throughout the process to build trust and show that the situation is being taken seriously.
Start by listening to the employee’s concerns and documenting the issue, before conducting an investigation. This should involve gathering evidence, speaking to all relevant parties, and determining the appropriate course of action to resolve the problem.
As well as responding quickly and consistently to reports from employees, make sure that HR and management teams understand how to recognise the signs of unfair treatment at work. This will help you to prevent minor issues from evolving into more serious problems.

Better support your employees with PeopleHR

SMBs need to put robust measures in place to not only respond to serious concerns such as unfair treatment at work, but also to support preventative measures to ensure a positive workplace culture. As your HR Software partner, PeopleHR can help you to better manage the deeper and more complex elements of interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

With tools to support employee appraisals, 360-degree feedback, absence management and disciplinary procedures, PeopleHR can help you to identify signs of unfair treatment at work, disengaged employees and patterns of inappropriate behaviour.

To find out more about any of these features and how they can help you to better support your employees, get in touch with us or check out our free 4-minute demo.

Sheldon Walker
By Sheldon Walker New Business Sales Representative

Sheldon is a New Business Sales professional with Access PeopleHR. He is dedicated to helping SMBs thrive in today's competitive landscape. With over 5 years of experience in SAAS and HR software products, he has provided numerous clients with the tools to make their life easier. Sheldon's passions lie in helping clients achieve their goals and giving them the freedom to do more.