Dealing with Discrimination & Bullying at Work

Dealing with Discrimination & Bullying at Work

Dealing with Discrimination & Bullying at Work

Last updated date : October 112021

Bullying and discrimination have a big effect on people emotionally, both victims and the bully can suffer mental health effects. Sadly, bullying jumps straight off of the school playground and into work. Dealing with discrimination and bullying at work is overwhelming. As it makes us feel like our wages are on the line. 

But anyone can learn to handle it in the best way possible, hopefully keeping those wages.  

Chapter 1:
What is Bullying?

At work, bullying is any type of behaviour that aims to belittle, hurt, or cause harm to another person. Bullying shares similar behaviours to harassment. But, harassment is bullying someone on what’s called their protected characteristics. Therefore, harassment is illegal while bullying sadly isn’t because a bully doesn’t always target these protected characteristics.

Chapter 2:
What Are The Protected Characteristics?

  • Race 
  • Colour
  • Gender (Identity & Expression)
  • National Origins
  • Disability (physical and psychological)
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Sex (Including Pregnancy)

These protected characteristics can be defended in a court of law, but you need to check the specifics of your region. 

Chapter 3:
What is Discrimination?

Both harassment and discrimination are to do with protected characteristics; however, what’s involved is slightly different.

Harassment involves calling others offensive names, mistreating or sending rude messages to someone with a protected characteristic. For example, let’s say Karen says sarcastically to Roberta, “Keep up, grandma”, because of Roberta’s age being older – this would be harassment. Especially, if that were to happen every day, to the point where Roberta felt awful about coming to work.

Discrimination involves employment actions against an employee with a protected characteristic. For example, Karen is the boss, and she fires, cuts the pay, or demotes Roberta because she discovers and disagrees with her sexual orientation. This is accountable in a court of law, even if Karen gives another excuse for firing Roberta. If there is evidence to prove it was due to the protected characteristic, Karen could face a lawsuit.

Chapter 4:
Examples of Bullying at Work

Bullies usually want to gain control over others, and it’s usually for a personal plan of some sort. Let’s continue with the Karen example. Maybe Karen sees that Roberta is in line to get the promotion she wanted, Karen might become mean to try to gain power over her. 

Although bullying happens for different reasons, it usually has certain common behaviours. Let’s look at what typical actions demonstrate bullying. 

Intimidation

Workplace intimidation can happen in a number of ways, but an example would be subtle or overt threats between workmates.  

Excluding Individuals

It’s true that not all employees will get along smoothly. But purposefully ignoring or excluding individuals from conversations, meetings, or social events would be a sign of bullying. 

Undermining

A sign of someone at work undermining you would be if someone were to diminish your achievements or laugh spitefully at your aims. Even spreading false rumours is considered to be an act of undermining someone.

Only Critiques 

Some managers are unaware that their management style is filled with negative comments without any encouragement or positives. This style is a form of bullying, depending on how it makes the employee being critiqued feel.

shifting the Blame

If someone else’s mistakes are shifted to us, this is also a form of bullying. 

Mood swings & Aggression

A co-worker can switch from one emotion to the next, possibly acting out aggressively when they don’t get what they want. It can also be because they want to exert power over others. Although this is a sign of someone who has trouble processing their emotions, it can damage those they work alongside. 

Chapter 5:
Examples of Discrimination at Work

Here are the different types of discrimination at work and some examples.

Direct Discrimination 

This is when someone with a protected characteristic is directly mistreated at work. For example, a pregnant employee is demoted or fired due to being pregnant. 

Indirect Discrimination 

When we talk of indirect discrimination, this could be a neutral arrangement or criteria that ‘accidentally’ affects those with a protected characteristic. For example, your job criteria states you need a worker who is six feet tall. But that rules out women and potentially those with physical disabilities.

Victimisation 

Lastly, a type of discrimination is victimisation. This happens when someone suffers unfair treatment because they complained about having suffered discrimination or harassment in the workplace. 

Chapter 6:
Discrimination Laws

Every country and even every state in the US will have different discrimination laws. But, overall those who discriminate because of a protected characteristic are will likely suffer consequences. 

If you’ve experienced acts of hostility or harassment in the UK, you may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010. This act legally protects workers against discrimination. Look through the citizen’s advice website for information on all different types of work-related incidents.

Chapter 7:
The Effect of Discrimination & Bullying on Mental Health

Self-esteem is the idea of self-respect; it is where our confidence in ourselves stems from. Discrimination can make us doubt ourselves and lower our self-esteem. In children, we’ve also seen that both the bully and the bullied will suffer effects well into adulthood—for example, depression, anxiety, and other behavioural issues.

Mental health and wellbeing have a huge impact on the work environment. Managers and employers that seek wellness for their employees avoid toxic work environments and high turnover.

Training on conflict resolution, diversity, and mindfulness can reinforce teams and their understanding of one another. Employers and managers play a vital role in teaching teams to work as one unit.

Chapter 8:
The Importance of Witnesses 

Sometimes those suffering from discrimination can’t necessarily see that they are – that’s where teaching staff about being a witness could help. For example, one study showed that most of 1000 international workers who witnessed discrimination or harassment didn’t tell HR about the issue.

Avoiding conflict due to fear of repercussions or just not knowing that telling HR was an option. Plus, 67% of the 1000 participants told family and friends, while 77% never told HR. This shows that our work culture is similar to the school-yard idea of ‘snitching.’

Employees could easily speak up about the discrimination and bullying they see. It would be helped through a mixture of training, anonymous discrimination report procedures, and creating a healthy workplace policy. A policy that embodies mutual respect, honesty and firm action against derogatory behaviours of any kind.

Chapter 9:
How to Report Discrimination at Work?

Generally, there are a few ways to deal with discrimination at work, and reporting is one of the best ways to handle it. But, how do you report it?

Do you go for the suit-up, get a lawyer and threaten the individual and the company approach? (Clearly not the best call). Or do you follow a procedure, stay calm, and remain polite?

It’s best to send the company a formal letter of complaint about the situation, making sure to attach it to an email. Explain all the people involved in the situation, what happened, how it made you feel, and politely flag up the issue. Giving the company a chance to resolve the issue, and give you evidence that you tried to resolve the issue on friendly terms.

Then if the discrimination continues, you have plenty of evidence to take to a lawyer or the citizen’s advice bureau.

Chapter 10:
How To Deal With Being Bullied in the Workplace?

Speak Up

Whether it’s taking the bully aside and telling them Whether it’s taking the bully aside and telling them how their actions make you feel or speaking to HR, don’t suffer in silence. There’s no harm in resolving these issues or reporting the situation to someone who remains unbiased. 

Look At Company Policy

Go over the company policies on behaviour at your work, and check the section on bullying. What’s the process of letting supervisors know? Do you need to fill in specific forms? Who do you need to involve in the situation? 

Talk With HR

In some cases, dealing with the bully or discriminator upfront is impossible. Instead, you need to go to boss, a trade union, or HR. If the situation is severely affecting your work or your mental health, it’s certainly worth speaking up.

Keep a Record

Record the dates, places, times, and other details if you plan on making a claim. Also, save any written texts, emails, times you’ve been teased, left out, etc. This record will be your proof that you’ve been mistreated.

Call a Helpline

Bullying helplines can help guide you to the right information for your situation. They can advise you on your next steps and give you the perfect resources for what you’re experiencing.

Discuss it With a Psychologist

None of us are the perfection we strive for, and talking things through helps us to gain a clear understanding of ourselves to keep progressing. You can chat with one of our team or your own mental health professional to gain clarity on dealing with discrimination and bullying at work. 

It can also help you to heal from the emotional turmoil of what you’re going through.

Chapter 11:
What if Your Boss is The Bully?

Dealing with a boss who is a bully can make work an unbearable place to be as they cause team morale to plummet. But first, you need to assess if your boss is demonstrating tough love or if they’re, in fact, a bully.

A key sign that it is oppression rather than skill building is if your boss is asserting themselves to gain control or exert their power. This can also come from a place of insecurity on your bosses part, trying to lower others to seem higher or like “the boss.”

Then if you see that they show bullying behaviour, consider talking with them or writing to them explaining how it is affecting you. That’s a great step to test whether your boss can listen and take your thoughts on board, and importantly make changes. 

Next is to begin keeping records of the written communication. Take a recording in meetings if need be, and compile evidence to show to HR, if the behaviour doesn’t change. 

Chapter 12:
What Employers Can Do To Prevent Discrimination

Policy – Employers can begin with creating policy not just around discrimination on all levels of the workforce, but also around bullying.

Easy to Make a Complaint – sometimes anonymity is the best way to get to the truth. For example, discuss with your employees that they need to fill out a form anonymously once a month. The form is to flag any issues of discrimination or bullying that they’ve seen or experienced.

Investigate – Always look into claims of discrimination carefully. It is a serious and legal accusation, so be sure to get the opinions of those involved. Plus those who might have seen certain incidents. Also, getting written accounts helps to collect the individual viewpoints and review them later.

Action & Action Plans –  The worst thing employers can do with discrimination accusations is sitting back and ignoring them. After you’ve assessed and found that discrimination has taken place then, it’s time for action. In some severe cases, that means firing people. In others, it means communicating, and some kind of change needs to take place.

Chapter 13:
Be Aware of The Consequences

Before reporting discrimination or a bully at work, you need to consider the consequences. Although victimisation of someone who reports is illegal in some countries, you will still affect your co-worker or team relationships.  

Although this doesn’t mean you should suffer in silence, it should affect how you approach the situation. Remaining friendly and constructive is a great approach, along with putting together a professional complaint notice. Carefully consider and seek advice before jumping into action, especially when putting someone into a legal firing line.

Chapter 14:
Dealing with Discrimination and Bullying at Work Effectively 

Nobody needs to put up with discrimination or bullying at work. Dealing with discrimination and bullying well requires good communication and emotional intelligence. Sometimes a discrimination dispute doesn’t get resolved, which can be awful for the person suffering. 

But if employers work together with employees (including potential witnesses), then we can drastically reduce the likelihood of it happening at work. Again, training is the key to managing these conflicts within organisations.

One of the emotional side effects of discrimination will likely be a feeling of anger. Although it is perfectly justified in these cases, it’s essential to remain calm and professional. Fighting fire with fire as they say – 

Or as my grandmother used to say “they who lose their temper, lose their argument”

Try talking to a professional adviser, trusted friends or family, and work on building emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is the art of living with self-compassion, self-belief and bouncing back from stressful situations. Learn to empower yourself and plan how you will deal with discrimination and bullying at work in a fair, just way that strengthens everyone involved. 

Bully and bullied, discriminators and discriminated, might be able to teach one another a lesson on becoming a better version of ourselves.

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