What To Do When There’s Trouble At Work

Some of the things we put up with in the workplace are truly incredible.

One would have thought that in this day and age, tales of bullying, unfair practices, discrimination and other displays of malevolence would be few and far between.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I have witnessed a lot of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour over the years. I have even had some of it actively and intentionally directed at me.

While I can look back and say those experiences made me stronger and are a part of my story, no one should have to go through that.

I was younger then, and remember feeling powerless to change my situation. I did in the end – by walking out! – but I’ve never forgotten the distinct feeling of not having any options, and seething at how organisations often get away with treating employees with contempt.

Before I go further let me make this public declaration: My politics isn’t left-leaning.

While I can look back and say those experiences made me stronger, no one should have to go through any of that

Click to Tweet

I believe in a responsible capitalism. One where people are rewarded for their gifts and efforts, but those who need assistance are not left behind.

One where risk-takers and leaders reap the fruits of their labour, but those who work for them are paid a fair wage, and are treated with kindness and fairness.

One where management and staff alike communicate clearly and openly, both sides acting with integrity.

I think of it as compassionate capitalism. Am I being naïve? I know many in the business and corporate worlds who think so!

I’m also really struck by how employees appear not to have much recourse.

I must admit I’ve never been a supporter of trade unions: my feeling is that, certainly here in the UK, US and Europe, the war for workers’ rights has been won and modern-day unions are obsolete; symbols of a bygone era and a barrier to free enterprise.

Could it be time for me to revisit that view?

It would appear that the government had a similar perspective, and as part of a cost-rationalisation exercise in the public sector in 2013, introduced fees for employment tribunal cases. This meant that anyone making a claim for unfair dismissal, discrimination and other issues at work had to pay as much as £1,200!

As well as the cost implications, I imagine the government considered the majority of cases being brought to be frivolous and unnecessary; many of those that hit the headlines certainly appeared to be opportunities for people to cash in and make a quick buck.

Taking on an employer requires unshakeable resolve, and commitment of time and money. My interactions with lawyers – which have been very limited! – confirm the stereotype of eyewatering hourly fees, which deter many from taking things further.

Two recent incidents within a client organisation have made the subject of accessibility to the legal system for conflict resolution relating to employment matters very topical for me. They actually precipitated this article, which strictly speaking, has nothing to do with my business offering beyond a sense of having a personal obligation to speak up and make a positive contribution.

So here’s the first incident: New Boss starts in a business, and is keen to bring in his own team. As a result, Person A is made redundant. As you would expect, Person A starts jobhunting. Only thing is, he does so using his work email address. Person A receives a job offer and reference request to said email address. Boss INTERCEPTS email, and sends what I can only describe as an unfavourable reference to Person A’s potential new employer, who promptly rescinds the job offer.

The second incident: Company-wide cost pressures mean there has to be a reduction in headcount. Consequently, all areas are asked to review their operations and come up with efficiencies. The Boss in a particular department concludes that Person X’s role can be done at another location for less. Boss hires Person Y at that location, and asks Person X to train Person Y.

Boss also makes it known to everyone that Person X’s role will soon cease to exist.

Everyone that is, except Person X!

Person X, hears rumours and finally realises what is happening. Person X asks for clarification on the future of his role. For the first time, Boss advises Person X of impending redundancy.

I won’t detail my thoughts about how both situations were handled, except to say that I am appalled that a member of a company’s Senior Management Team could behave in this manner.

More instructive, is the fact that he has not been held accountable for it!

I was not able to directly influence these events, but this article is about raising my voice to declare these two things:

1. This sort of behaviour is NOT acceptable

2. You do NOT have to put up with it.

This article is to share my limited knowledge of how to handle such scenarios. If I help just ONE person who has been treated this way, I will have achieved my goal.

I hope this encourages you NOT to suffer in silence, and you know what to do if you are treated unfairly at work

Click to Tweet

But before I go further, please note this: I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN EMPLOYMENT LAW. This is NOT what I do for a living, and I strongly recommend that you seek independent legal advice (it may surprise you to find that this doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg, as I explain below).

These are the thoughts of a passionate lay(wo)man only; my contribution to making the world a better place…

…great! Let’s have a general review of what to do if you are facing trouble at work.

Keep a Record

I hope it doesn’t come to it, but if you need to get lawyers or a third party involved, it would be beneficial to have a written record of what has transpired.

Keep a diary (preferably NOT at work where it could be interfered with), relevant emails, proof of the times you have raised concerns.

Speak to Human Resources

Even as I recommend this, I know that this is a necessary, but time-wasting step.

Just my personal bias, I’m afraid.

I wish I could sugar-coat it, but I’ve never seen an effective HR Department (maybe that’s a business opportunity for someone right there…)

Perhaps you haven’t either, but don’t let that deter you from completing this necessary part of the process.

If you have to escalate, one of the first things you will be asked is if you brought your grievance to your employer’s attention formally. The employer could then claim they had no knowledge of the issue and were not given an opportunity to fix it, which would not work in your favour.

So go through the motions; get your complaint or query on record.

And of course, record the date and time of any meetings, and summarise what was discussed.

Have you heard of the ICO?

Here in the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office is the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest.

While it could be argued that a work email address belongs to your employer, the employee may also be able to lay a personal claim to it, to some extent.

If a report to your HR Department does not lead to a data breach investigation, do report it to the Information Commissioner.

Start with Citizens Advice

An oft-ignored – but brilliant – resource here in the UK is Citizens Advice, a service charity that provide free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities, on a wide range of legal issues ranging from work, debt, housing and consumer law to immigration and family law.

If you are being treated unfairly at work, I suggest reaching out to Citizens Advice as a starting point.

Last resort: Employment Tribunal

Again, no one wants things to get this far.

But it’s useful to know what your options are.

You may be aware of the Supreme Court ruling this July that the introduction of tribunal fees had detrimental consequences on access to justice, and employees’ ability to uphold their rights at work.

This re-balances the playing field, and empowers employees by removing the financial hurdles.

Just to remind you again, that I am NOT in the legal profession, and you MUST seek your own independent legal advice.

But I hope this piece encourages you not to suffer in silence, and goes some way to make you aware of what to do if you are treated unfairly at work.

Thanks for reading.