Why does having a ‘protected characteristic’ make you more vulnerable to bullying and harassment?

Bullies in the workplace, like bullies in the playground, are cowards – if they weren’t, they’d pick on someone of the same or higher status – this they rarely do; instead, to get away with abusive behaviours, they will target the vulnerable.

Bullying and harassment are about control; the more vulnerable someone is, the easier it will be to control them. For example, disabled workers are targeted because they are the most vulnerable. Often management resent the reasonable adjustments that need to be made to employ them. Management resent making a ‘special case’ of them. For example, a manager saying to a member of their staff, “I’m so glad that your cancer is in remission, you would not believe the problems we are having, in a different department, with someone who refuses to accept that their cancer means that they really can’t do their job anymore.” AKA, if you get sick again, I will get rid of you. This is an implied threat and should be treated as such, “Are you threatening me?” I would also consider reporting what the manager said, in writing, via email to the manager’s manager.

Colleagues can also resent a disabled worker getting ‘special’ treatment – I have seen them make the disabled worker’s job more difficult as a result – I would call it out, “Do you have an issue with me?” Often I’ve found those workers with a protected characteristic feel grateful to have their job, particularly if it meant reasonable adjustments have been made – this gratitude makes them more vulnerable to abuse.

If you can evidence that you are being bullied on the grounds of one of the 9 protected characteristics introduced in the Equality Act of 2010, then you may have a case worth fighting in law. However, bullies who are racist, for example, will be VERY careful that their hostile behaviour can’t be called racist. So, they will find a mask for their racism – performances issues are common. I advise trade union members to contact their local rep as soon as a manager mentions performance issues, as the local rep will know what reasonable standards are in that work. Remember that even if there are genuine performance issues, EVERYONE, irrespective of performance, SHOULD BE TREATED WITH RESPECT. If a manager cannot remain respectful, I would argue that they should be in a capability procedure. Even if you have evidence, I don’t want anyone to have to rely on the law – as, by that stage, the target could be badly damaged. That is why I want workers to keep their guard up, particularly if they are young or have a protected characteristic. If something said to you sounds off – like the example above ALWAYS ask a question. Even a simple “I didn’t catch that, what did you say?” will make the perpetrator understand that you are on to them, and you will question their behaviours. #workplacebullying #workplaceharassment #bullyingawareness #bullyingprevention #anewnormal

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