May 25, 2007

Employers see workplace discrimination victims as nuisances

A new report from the conciliation service ACAS shows that people who complain at work about discrimination on grounds of religion or belief or sexual orientation often end up being treated as nuisances rather than victims. Employees who have tried to resolve disputes over discrimination under new equality regulations have ended up facing demotion, dismissal, career changes, mental health problems including depression or anxiety, financial difficulties, relationship problems and having to move house. Some even contemplated suicide.

In the first study of the impact of the employment equality regulations on sexual orientation and religion or belief introduced in 2003, research by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), on behalf of ACAS, suggests internal workplace grievance procedures are ‘flawed’ and do not provide a way to resolve these issues. This may encourage more people to resort to an employment tribunal.

Analysis by ACAS shows that between January 2004 and September 2006, 470 individuals brought Employment Tribunal claims where the main allegation concerned discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and 461 brought cases where discrimination on grounds of religion or belief was the main claim. Two-thirds of claims were brought by men.

From in-depth interviews with claimants it was found that sexual orientation discrimination cases were typically based on claims of bullying and harassment, including verbal abuse, physical assaults and unfair treatment by managers. This had led to disciplinary action or demotion for poor work performance until the claimant felt they had no option but to resign.

For religion and belief cases, claims most commonly related to terms and conditions of work that made the observance of religious practices more difficult – such as holiday arrangements. There were also examples of organisations with a religious ethos reportedly discriminating in areas such as promotion on the basis that the claimant did not have a religion or was from a different faith.

The study highlighted how claimants dismissed as “futile” internal grievance procedures aimed at resolving disputes within organisations. Complaints were made about how the submission of a grievance by an employee was often triggered by disciplinary action by employers and how they could work against achieving a satisfactory resolution; it was also thought to be difficult to find colleagues to represent them, that there were often unnecessary delays and the involvement of unsuitable managers who, in a number of cases, were felt to have been complicit or active in the original discrimination experience.

Overall, claimants felt they did not receive a fair hearing at internal grievance procedures. The cost of obtaining representation was seen to be a significant barrier in pursuing claims, and the lack of proper representation and the necessary understanding of the ‘language of the law’ was seen as being a severe disadvantage in obtaining justice from employment tribunals.

IES author Ann Denvir said “One strong theme which emerged from both sets of claimants was the tendency of their employers to respond to their complaints by seeing them as the problem, rather than the victim of unfair treatment.

“But despite the sometimes difficult experiences of submitting an employment tribunals claim many felt the process allowed them to defend against discrimination in a way they felt unable to within the workplace and to make an important symbolic gesture. Justice rather than financial compensation was seen as being the main motivation. Overall, the interviews with claimants highlighted the crucial importance of good independent advice and representation.



Anonymous said...

Employers are pimps

Anonymous said...

I have contacted the UCU helpline (Freephone 08000 329952) to seek legal advice over the phone, since my union representative has been blocking such advice while seemingly colluding with the University by supporting prolongation of their investigation against me (3 months now on a simple investigation that cannot be substantiated) until I hand them the work that I am doing.

The response from the UCU (on the helpline mentioned above) is that the legal helpline has been discontinued (0117 9330642) and that if I am not receiving help from my union representative, I should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.

What are the fees for????

What a sham!

Anonymous said...

As you read this think of the people in your university who are at this minute struggling not just with being the targets of bullying but also with a grievance process that is a sham.

Think about what that must be like.

Then imagine them going to UCU for help and discovering that UCU appear to collude with the management of their university.

Think about what that must be like...

....for an academic in a university....

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

I was absent for 10 days from work for health reasons (acute stress brought on by a campaign of bullying by my manager and his colleagues, senior managers). This was brought to the attention of the human resources of the university. When I reported sick to the human resources, I told them that I will be seeing my GP for the matter. They were clearly scared and insisted that I visit the university own health centre (which is quite far from my own house). My GP immediately issued me with a report for a long period, stating that this period is only initial. Out of duty, I returned back to work earlier than the recommended period. I was immediately contacted by the same bullying manager for a back to work interview, stating that this is upon the request of the human resources.

Neither the manager nor the human resources explained the purspose of such an interview, so I investigated its purpose. It transpired that such interviews are part of "Absence Management" and their sole aim is to prevent future absences.

Conducting such an interview is in itself an incrimination of me and a confirmation that some universities consider mental illness to be a false and convenient illness when the going gets tough.

The act of having the person who triggered my illness conduct such an interview is beyond comprehension.

Let's Speak of their wisdom.

It didn't stop at this stage. The manager, thinking of stress as a normal occurance that affects all humans regularly and that can be used by employees every now and then, stated, in the presence of HR and a useless union rep., that my absence has caused him stress.

Clearly his stress condition did not cause him to take antidepressants. It did not cause him to go into severe harmful anger rages.

They couldn't get any lower.