Victimisation at work
The term victimisation is used to describe unfair treatment of a worker by an employer because of some action the worker has taken. Some employment legislation protects you from victimisation if you are availing of your rights under the legislation or looking to avail of your rights. This means that your employer cannot penalise you by dismissing you, treating you unfairly or changing your conditions of employment in an unfavourable way. Some legislation refers to this conduct as “penalising” an employee, other legislation refers to it as victimisation.
Employment legislation prohibiting victimisation
The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 prohibits your employer from victimising you for exercising your rights under the Act. If you are due a pay increase under this Act you may not be victimised by your employer, for example, by a reduction in your hours of work.
If you brought a claim or gave evidence in proceedings against your employer under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 you are protected against victimisation. If you are victimised by your employer you can bring another claim to the Workplace Relations Commission – see ‘How to make a complaint’ below. Your employer may be obliged to pay you compensation. This applies whether or not you lost your original case against your employer.
Health and safety
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended) you may not be penalised for exercising your rights under safety and health legislation. For example, your employer may not penalise or dismiss you for making a complaint to the Health and Safety Authority about health and safety at work.
An employer is prohibited from victimising a fixed-term employee who looks to avail of their rights under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003. Victimisation includes dismissal in order to avoid a fixed-term contract being considered an open-ended contract.
An agency worker is protected against being victimised for reporting breaches of the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012. This means that the hirer or the agency may not penalise an agency worker by dismissal, unfair treatment or an unfavourable change in their conditions of employment.
Under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, employees who make disclosures about wrongdoing which comes to their attention in the workplace are protected against penalisation. This Act applies to all employees, contractors, agency workers, members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.
Under the Criminal Justice Act 2011 if you disclose information to the Gardaí or give evidence about relevant offences, your employer is prohibited from penalising or dismissing you for this. Relevant offences are those relating to white collar crime in areas such as banking, company law, fraud and corruption.
Employment legislation and unfair dismissal
Other employment legislation protects you against dismissal for seeking to avail of or availing of your rights under the legislation but does not protect you against victimisation. If you are dismissed because of your pregnancy or for claiming your rights under maternity protection legislation your dismissal is unfair. You are also protected against unfair dismissal if you are taking or proposing to take adoptive, parental or force majeure leave. In these circumstances you do not need any particular period of service with your employer in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal – see ‘How to make a complaint’ below.
How to make a complaint
If you have been victimised you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission. You should use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie. The complaint must be brought within 6 months of the last act of victimisation or the date of dismissal. This time limit can be increased to 12 months but only if there is reasonable cause which prevented the complaint from being brought within the normal time limit.