How to Deal with Unfair Treatment in Your Workplace

Being treated unfairly at work can make even your dream job something you dread. Unfair treatment can come in a variety of forms, from workplace bullying or harassment to sexual harassment to being denied the raise or promotion you’ve earned, but it’s never right, as all employees deserve to feel safe. 

This guide will first go through different types of unfair treatment in the workplace and what you can do to address them, and will then go into detail about what to do when the perpetrator is a colleague versus when they are management.

Types of Unfair Workplace Treatment:

Bullying And Harassment

Some common examples of workplace bullying include spreading malicious rumors, excluding someone from work-related social activities, and undermining them constantly. 

It is important to note that while bullying someone isn’t illegal (but can still be addressed) harassment is illegal. If the unfair behavior is based on age, sex, race, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation, it’s illegal harassment, and you should contact an employment rights advisor, because laws on harassment aren’t easy to interpret.

Even if their actions aren’t illegal, you should still take steps to ensure you receive fair treatment. A good first step is to approach a line manager or human resources representative, as they can potentially intervene. 

You should also make notes on the specifics of the unfair treatment, as these can be referenced later if the issue requires an employment tribunal or workplace mediation. If you work for a company without an established grievance policy, you can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) for help.

Unwanted advances / sexual harassment

Another common problem in the workplace is a co-worker who won’t stop asking you on dates. If a co-worker is persistent and annoying, you may first want to address them in person and explain why their behavior makes you feel uncomfortable. If they persist, then you should talk to an HR representative.

However, sometimes a line is crossed and the treatment becomes sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment is legally defined as either quid pro quo or hostile work environment. 

The former refers to when a boss or manager threatens to withhold promotion unless an employee performs sexual favors or promises promotion in return for sexual favors. A hostile work environment can occur from either physical abuse, such as groping, or verbal abuse, such as unwanted sexual advances or making offensive sexual jokes. 

If you think you might be a victim of workplace sexual harassment, then you should consult your company’s HR policy on sexual harassment or, in more severe cases, contact a lawyer.

Unequal treatment from management

Your employer or manager can participate in unfair workplace treatment in a variety of ways. The types of bullying or harassment discussed above can be committed by a manager or employer as well as co-workers, but because they are in a position of power, your manager or employer may also treat you unfairly by denying you a promotion you earned, offering you little or no desirable projects, or firing you without reason. 

While this kind of treatment from management can and should still be addressed, the process can be slightly different than for dealing with a colleague. Here’s a brief explanation of steps you can take to address unjust treatment from either an employee or employer/management:

Employee

If the offender is a co-worker, first meet with them privately if you feel comfortable doing so. If you feel uncomfortable, or if they continue the unwanted behavior, contact a supervisor or HR representative. 

If you think that the reason for the treatment is discriminatory and based on your race, gender, sexuality or religious beliefs, a good step can be to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC specializes in these types of cases, and they will both investigate your claim and also work with management to resolve the issue(s).

Employer

In some cases, the best first step is to talk to your employer and see if the situation can be resolved. However, often you will feel intimidated because of the position of power your employer or manager holds. 

A good step in this case is to file a complaint with your HR department, as they can address the issue even when the perpetrator is the employer. If your claim is based on illegal discrimination or harassment, your company will be required to investigate and assure fair treatment in the future. 

In addition, it is also important to know that you cannot be adversely affected for filing a complaint, as employer retaliation based on a complaint being filed is illegal.