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Tuesday 09 July 2024

Facing discrimination at Work? We've got your back

By Jo Seery and Helen Carr

If you’re facing discrimination at work, MiP is there to support you with expert advice and representation. Jo Seery and Helen Carr explain how to build your case and get the best result for you and your colleagues.

Tense meeting in a workplace canteen

Unfortunately, many of us experience discrimination at work. It can be shocking and feels very personal. Discrimination can undermine your sense of being valued in the organisation and make you question whether you want to stay in the job or have the energy to challenge it. Dealing with discrimination can be exhausting; it leaves you feeling isolated and can harm your mental health and wellbeing.

This is where your MiP rep, national officer or other members can give you valuable support. Whether you are dealing with inappropriate questions, jokes or assumptions, less favourable treatment than colleagues or policies or practices which put you at a particular disadvantage, MiP are here to support you.

Our casework and discussions with reps show that discrimination occurs in many forms across the healthcare sector. If it happens to you, we want to make sure we support you in the right way and you have the right information to work with us on your case.

All of us are covered by the Equality Act 2010, which sets out a number of ‘protected characteristics’: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The purpose of the act is to eliminate discrimination on any of these grounds and it covers both direct discrimination (being told your disability was why you didn’t get the promotion, for example) and indirect discrimination (the job requires a qualification which is not related to the work), as well as harassment. Your employer cannot dismiss or downplay discriminatory behaviour by saying things like, ‘Oh, they didn't mean it ’. They need to own the issue and deal with it.

Meeting your rep

Your local MiP rep or national officer will be a reassuring presence throughout what will be a stressful process. Although it can take time to process what’s happening, it’s best to contact your rep as soon as possible; it will help you to feel less alone and you can talk through your concerns and get advice on the next steps. There are also very tight time limits if the case is not resolved internally and you need to pursue a legal claim.

Let’s say, for example, that you have just come back from maternity leave and are getting constant comments about looking tired or not being up to speed with a new IT system. That will make you feel vulnerable and not valued — and it has the potential to escalate. That’s the time to get in touch.

When meeting your rep, think about what would be a satisfactory outcome for you. Most members just want the discrimination to stop. Starting any process against your employer can feel daunting. The employer may deny there has been different treatment or try to justify the difference.

You can discuss with your MiP rep whether the issue can be resolved informally, by raising it with your manager, HR or directly with the individual. Your rep will help you gather the relevant evidence and guide you through the steps of your employer’s internal process. Resolving the situation internally is often less stressful and can result in an individual solution which cannot be awarded by an employment tribunal, such as reasonable adjustments, promotion or a reallocation of duties.

We want to challenge all discriminatory behaviour, but legal thresholds for tribunals can be high. Focusing on the internal process first helps to get your voice heard, and your rep can use their negotiation and influencing skills to push for change across the organisation. If your issue affects other staff, it could become a trade union campaign and lead to improvements in policy, processes, training and culture, as MiP national officer Jamie Briers found out with one recent case.

‘Receiving an anonymous complaint about sexual harassment, led to the UNISON branch working with the chief people officer as well undertaking activity in the branch, including a survey and seminars,” he explains. “Not only were there changes to confidence in reporting but the policy was reviewed, and the activity had a knock-on effect in raising other health and safety issues such as the menopause at work. Working with local reps with that local knowledge created long lasting change and a better workplace.”

How to build your case

First, record each act which you feel was discriminatory:

  • the date
  • details of what happened
  • details of any witness

Second, think about how the behaviour compares with how others are treated. Note:

  • the name and position of each comparator
  • what about their circumstances is the same
  • what about their circumstances is different

Third, gather all the documentary evidence you can, such as:

  • your record or diary of events
  • your statement
  • comparators
  • employee policies relevant to you
  • correspondence (letters, emails, texts etc.)
  • notes of meetings and phone calls

Your rep will also collect evidence from previous cases. It’s quite common for employers to fail to follow their own policies and processes, and evidence of a pattern of behaviour will support your case. Your rep may have evidence that a disproportionate number of black staff are being disciplined on capability grounds, for example, or that the employer regularly fails to implement reasonable adjustments for disabled staff.

Your rep can also use resources like the ACAS Ask and Respond questionnaire, or make subject access requests under the Data Protection Act 2018 or freedom of information requests under the FOI Act 2010.  Your employer has equality also has obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty, so there are many tools to support you through the internal process.

Feeling the stress

Your MiP rep will understand the pressure and strain you are under. If you’re feeling anxious, remember that you’re both on the same side and the problem is with your employer. With your rep, you can talk through your issue and any wider context which is having an impact on you. If you are experiencing racism at work, for example, you may also be worried about your children’s safety and their experience at school and on the streets.

Your rep will be clear about what MiP and can put this in writing for you. It’s your case, but listen to your rep’s advice: their knowledge and expertise is invaluable. They may need to ask you some probing questions. This doesn’t mean they don’t believe you; it’s essential to prepare you both for your employer’s rebuttal.

Your health and wellbeing matters, so your rep will work with you to consider all the options. It’s a common tactic by employers to introduce unacceptable delays into internal investigations. The impact on everyone involved is huge and can create lasting damage. MiP will do everything we can to make sure that investigations are timely and the process is clear.

It’s on all of us to challenge poor behaviour at work and support our colleagues. At a recent meeting of MiP BME reps, we talked about the NHS code of conduct. Thinking and reflecting on how we want to show up for work and how we want to be treated is important to all of us, but when things go wrong MiP is here to help you. So don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • Jo Seery is an employment law specialist at Thompsons, MiP’s legal advisers. Helen Carr is head of operations at MiP.  

Challenging discrimination: your step-by-step guide

Worried about how you’re being treated at work? Start collecting the evidence you need to build a case and write your timeline - Contact your MiP rep or talk to a trusted colleague
Meeting with MiP rep Agree an action plan: who is doing what and when? - Agree when to meet again - Note any time limits for a potential legal claim
Internal process Make yourself familiar with your employer’s policies and the strategy you have agreed with your rep - Discuss any potential grievance claim or initial legal advice
If your case is unresolved Review the outcome with your rep and make sure all policy and procedures were followed, including the appeal process
Do you need legal advice? Discuss your next steps with your rep, including legal advice on a potential claim


Photo: Unsplash/LinkedIn

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