Discrimination, harassment and victimisation are all things that can come up in the workplace through a lack of diversity and equality. In everyday language the terms are often used interchangeably, but the 2010 Equality Act discusses the phrases in detail to give them quite specific meanings, highlighting the differences between them.
Discrimination means treating someone differently because of who they are or qualities that they possess. When this treatment is unfair and offensive, discrimination is taking place, something that workforces need to be aware of for the simple reason they are made up of different people – differences that can cause problems.
Harassment is the result of discrimination by the way someone behaves towards an individual. So whilst discrimination is the whole process of singling someone out due to their personal traits, harassment is what follows in the form of offensive behaviour. The law defines harassment as 'unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.' This mention of 'protected characteristics' links to the nine areas focused on in the Equality Act including sexual orientation, age, and gender.
Victimisation refers to bad treatment directed towards someone because they made a complaint under the Equality Act 2010. This can occur before a complaint has even been made because someone could be victimised if they're suspected of reporting an issue. If you are treated badly because you complain about discrimination, or you help someone else that has been targeted, then you are being victimised, often in the form of workplace bullying. This can be displayed through denied promotion or training, therefore limiting your professional progression, or colleagues ignoring you.
Examples of Problems in the Workplace:
Gender is a common area for discrimination can occur around. One woman experienced this when she went to a conference with two male employees. As they introduced her to a man from another organisation, she was immediately treated differently. As she explained some of their company initiatives, the man ignored her the whole time, attempting to cut her out of the conversation by directing his questions to her male colleagues instead, implying that she wasn't on their professional level by isolating her from the situation.
This highlights how people can be discriminated against by their qualities in the workplace. In this case, the man judged her as inferior due to her gender, and failed to acknowledge her professionalism as a result.
Mental health is a more openly discussed problem now too, moving away from being a taboo subject; people now open up much more about their struggles. However, this changing attitude doesn't stop a lot of people from remaining ignorant and even disrespectful around the subject.
This is highlighted by the fact an 18-year-old was discriminated against by a charity shop due to his depression and anorexia. He was told to disclose his medication. The manager then demanded to know why he was on anti-depressants when he was "only 18". As a result of this discrimination and other offensive remarks, he eventually left the business.
Discrimination doesn't need to be due to a physical feature, as this case shows. Any way that someone can appear to be "different" can cause them to face discrimination, and due to the context that a workplace should be made up of people from different backgrounds, the variations can cause problems.
Sadly, sexual harassment is a prominent problem in the workplace, with some industries having a greater problem than others. The issue isn't going away either, as a recent BBC survey revealed that within the UK's working population, 50% of women and 20% of men have been sexually harassed at work, with both sides failing to report the incidents most of the time too.
One of the areas where harassment is comparably high is the retail industry. Two female friends noticed this when they launched into the world of work together. They quickly saw how waiting on tables and stocking shelves invited bawdy comments, unwanted attention, and even physical assaults such as being groped on the way home.
In the majority of cases, the victim never feels they can report the problem due to the fear of losing their job. Even when the individual reports the harassment, they can be met with laughter or told that they're fired. This shocking revelation stresses that attitudes towards harassment need to change so that people can confidently report issues. This change, and tougher consequences for those who commit harassment, would reduce the number of cases considerably.
Often referred to as 'bullying', it is all too often in the workplace that people are targeted, and victimisation follows. One individual had to deal with this treatment from a co-worker as a result of her brain illness history. The office bully focussed on her and took delight in constantly humiliating her.
When the victim spoke to management about the problems, she was told she should never have been hired due to her illness. Despite these efforts, it just seemed to fuel the problem. The responses she received were being told to quit as well as a continuation of the bullying. This strain can definitely make or break someone, showing how victimisation needs to reduce in order to create a fairer workplace all round.