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What would you do if you witnessed an act of discrimination against a colleague?

What would you do if you saw a colleague being sexually harassed, or if you felt that a colleague had been overlooked for a post because they are disabled? If faced with a challenging situation such as this, would you stand up for the colleague concerned and speak out?

The public’s reaction to such challenging and high pressured situations and whether they are prepared to stand up and do the right thing has recently been the subject of the Channel 4 programme, Eye Spy. But what would you do if you were faced with such a situation at work, and to what protection would you be entitled if you spoke out?

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from victimisation so that it is unlawful to be subjected to detrimental treatment for doing just this. The Equality Act’s victimisation provisions protect employees for doing a "protected act". This includes bringing your own discrimination claim, or complaining about being discriminated against or and/or harassed, but also includes getting involved in some way with another employee's concerns that they are being discriminated against (such as making a complaint on their behalf, supporting them through an internal or external process, or giving evidence on their behalf in any resulting proceedings).

If, having carried out such an act, your employer subjects you to detrimental treatment as a result, you potentially have a claim for victimisation, despite the fact you may not have been the victim of discrimination yourself. “Detrimental treatment” can include treatment such as “sending you to Coventry”, making adverse comments about you, not awarding you a pay rise that is awarded to all other employees, or posting you to what can be termed a “punishment” role.

Victimisation can arise when an employer has been the subject of a discrimination complaint by a current or former employee, but this need not always be the case. For example, a prospective new employer can be liable for victimisation if they refuse to employ someone who has given evidence against a previous employer in a discrimination case.

Will this make you more likely to stand up to an employer who is discriminating against a colleague? Have you already done this and feel that you have been treated detrimentally as a result? If you are in any doubt, seek legal advice as to your rights.

By Employment Solicitor Juliette Franklin.

Read more about Discrimination and Harassment and Bullying at Work.

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