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Harassed employees: dispute resolutions are failing

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Workplace dispute resolution procedures make cases of discrimination worse and do not benefit the victim, according to sufferers of harassment on grounds of religion or sexual orientation.

In a new survey by employment relations and arbitration body ACAS, the victims of religious and sexual orientation-related abuse said dispute resolution procedures tended to victimise them even further, and usually resulted in their dismissal or demotion.

"For a majority, dispute resolution procedures were seen to be flawed, often exacerbating the experience of discrimination rather than resolving it," said the report (PDF) by the Institute for Employment Studies, which carried out the survey for ACAS.

"One strong theme among both sets of claimants was the tendency of their employers to respond to their complaint by seeing them as the problem, rather than the victim of unfair treatment," it said. "While religion or belief claimants were typically dismissed, sexual orientation claimants tended to have involved disciplinary action or demotion for work performance until they felt they had no option but to resign."

The participants in the study said Employment Tribunals were a valuable way for their claims of ill treatment to receive an objective hearing. In fact, they said, this motive outstripped a desire for compensation.

"Employment tribunal claims were generally submitted as a means of seeking justice and to obtain an external confirmation of unfair treatment, rather than as a way of gaining financial compensation," said the report.

The research tracks the progress of the Employment Equality Regulations on sexual orientation and religion or belief, which were made law in 2003. They made it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on these grounds.

"These Employment Equality Regulations provide a further step forward in outlawing discrimination in our workplaces," said Rita Donaghy, chair of ACAS. "This is the first time since the new regulations came into force that sexual orientation and religion or belief at work has been subject to research. The findings shed new light on these issues both from the employees' and employers' perspective."

The research found that different groups faced different kinds of discrimination. "Sexual orientation claims were more likely to centre on bullying and harassment and religion or belief claims more likely to relate to terms and conditions of work that made the observance of religious practices impossible," the report said.

The survey also found that there was significant overlap between the issues of race and religious belief. "Religion or belief discrimination appears to be closely aligned with the race discrimination: two-thirds of religion or belief discrimination cases had race discrimination as a secondary [claim]," said the report.

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