• 23 April 2021
  • 12 min read

How To Manage Unfair Treatment At Work

  • Brenda Walcott
    Adult Nurse & Midwife
    • Laura Bosworth
    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
    • Aubrey Hollebon
  • 1
  • 1308
"it is important to challenge bad practice or bad behaviour no matter who the perpetrator may be"

What is unfair treatment and how do you deal with it? Nurse and Midwife, Brenda, outlines her experience and how she challenged it. Find out the resources and laws available to nurses and care staff.

Topics Covered In This Article

What Does Unfair Treatment Look Like?

My Own Experience Of Unfair Treatment At Work

There Are Options Available For Managing Unfair Treatment

Contract Of Employment

Informal Management Approach

Union Representation

Information Governance

Employee Assistance Program And Occupational Health

A Strong Support Network

Speak Up Guardians And Whistleblowers

Other Resources External To The NHS

What I Specifically Learned From My Own Experience Of Unfair Treatment

Remember And Promote The 6 Cs Of Nursing

What Does Unfair Treatment Look Like?

So you are a nursing professional and you love your role of caring for patients?

You take pride in working with courage and compassion for those in your care but you feel that you are facing circumstances at work that are less than fair and that the duty of candour and care you have towards your patients are not being afforded you at work.

What if you receive a letter inviting you to a formal meeting without any prior warning or awareness on your part of what the issues may be, what would you do?

What if you feel that your career progression is being blocked by your manager and that information on you personal file is being used and manipulated to discredit you.

What would you do?

My Own Experience Of Unfair Treatment At Work

Well I had to deal with similar situations to the ones described above and would like to recount how I approached the issues and explore other resources and sources of support that NHS staff can access in these unfortunate circumstances.

For the past 20 plus years I have enjoyed the experience of working in various hospitals and healthcare facilities in England, both NHS and private entities.

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I have mostly positive experiences in these facilities that employed me through the years, including district general hospitals in East Sussex in Hastings and Eastbourne, and many different hospitals in London as a student, as a nurse and as a midwife.

It was when I came to live in Hertfordshire that I had the unfortunate and sad experience of being treated unfairly.

The application process took a long time so I waited 8 months to get started in my new role.

I was shown around and was warmly welcomed by everyone. One year had passed and I felt like I was settling into my job.

Apart from the odd misunderstanding that can happen between colleagues I felt everything was going well.

I enjoyed supporting students (as a mentor) and also my colleagues, from juniors to consultants. I enjoyed being able to help as part of a team.

So I applied to an NHS funded course to train as a supervisor to formalise a job role to support my colleagues, especially as the unit need more supervisors.

And I requested support from my supervisor.

Soon after this I felt that my manager started to be less than fair to me. I felt I needed support to address the issues I was facing.

At the time I was acutely aware that the situation was a source of distraction from the care I gave to my patients.

It also resulted in a loss of trust in my employer, my colleagues and my managers.

There were numerous options open to me, including just resigning my job and walking away.

I could also take the approach that I will just play dumb and go with the flow and ride out the “rough patch at work”.

The following is what I learned about the choices available to us in managing unfair treatment at work.

There Are Options Available For Managing Unfair Treatment

There are laws to protect employees from discrimination at work.

The Equality Act makes it unlawful for you to be discriminated against due to protected characteristics as race, age, gender and so on.

There are also policies to guide managers and employees in addressing grievances and employer-employee relations.

So I will review some of these resources that provide guidance in these circumstances.

Contract Of Employment

One often overlooked resource is the contract of employment.

Your contract includes the statement by the employer that employees will be treated fairly and not be discriminated against due to race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or religion.

It also refers to policies that guide managers and staff in their work relationship.

Informal Management Approach

There are policies to guide managers when there is the need to address and manage punctuality and attendance of employees.

Performance management policies also guide managers to ensure fairness in the management of staff.

These policies usually outline a process of addressing issues informally using counselling or verbal warnings in the early stages (except of course in the case of gross misconduct by the employee).

Union Representation

Another important aspect of employment relations is choosing a union representative.

These days I think it is mandatory to have indemnity insurance as healthcare professionals.

But from experience it seems wise to choose one that is specific to your nursing job role.

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The union rep that works in your department has insider knowledge so they are more equipped to identify unfair treatment or even a subtle deviation from policies and laws that protect people at work.

In the past I have had union representation by a rep who was not a nurse and it made the process less effective as there were medical / nursing processes that the rep was not knowledgeable about and therefore could not grasp fully the issues at stake.

Information Governance

Another law that we healthcare professionals are made to understand and apply in our jobs everyday is Information Governance.

The training for this is mandatory and is related to the Data Protection Act 2018 (Supplement of the GDPR from May 25 2018).

This Act outlines legal requirements for any individual or company that process people’s information.

This regulation applies not just to the management of patients data but also to the personal information your employer holds about you.

So if as a nurse you feel that your personal file is being misused or is not being processed fairly by a manager or supervisor you may resort to the principles within this Act that guide the management of your personal data to ensure fairness and accuracy.

I have experienced unfair treatment in this respect where unverified information was placed on my personal file that had a negative impact on my work life.

I felt this needed to be challenged and was happy to see that there were legal principles that provide protection for employees in these circumstances.

Employee Assistance Program And Occupational Health

These kinds of experiences can impact a person’s confidence, work performance and even impact their health and wellbeing.

So NHS staff may find it useful to seek support from Employee Assistance Services at work or the Occupational Health Department, their GP, the hospital chaplain or their own spiritual or faith leader, minister or pastor.

Sometimes a staff member experiencing unfair treatment at work may also be isolated from a social support network and may also be facing other personal challenges such as ill health or family breakdown.

It is in such a case that it may be wise to walk away from a job if you encounter harassment, discrimination or other unfair treatment at work.

A Strong Support Network

If you don’t feel strong enough or supported to challenge a manager or other perpetrator of unfair behaviour directed against you, it may be the safe and wise decision to seek employment elsewhere to remove yourself out of harm’s way and reduce the risk of adverse impact on your health.

On the other hand if you have good support around you both at home and on the job there are good reasons to challenge poor management and unfair treatment at work (especially in the NHS).

The (British Medical Association 2021) BMA reports on evidence that bullying and harassment negatively impacts patients safety.

Speak Up Guardians And Whistleblowers

It was also one of the findings of the Francis Reports (2013) that staff at Mid Staffordshire were not speaking up about poor care and bullying, for fear of repercussions.

The report also highlighted a relationship between poor management, a culture of fear and poor patient outcomes.

So internally we now have Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.

There is also the law that protects Whistleblowers who are concerned about poor management and any other issue that may have a negative impact on patient care and the working life of staff at any level in the work place.

Other Resources External To The NHS

Other resources that employees may find useful when dealing with unfair treatment at work include the CAB (Citizens Advice) and ACAS.

What Is ACAS?

(ref from Wikipedia 2021)

“ACAS (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is a Crown non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom. Its purpose is to improve organisations and working life through the promotion and facilitation of strong industrial relations practice.”

Along with mediation and conciliation in the work place, ACAS also provide best practice guidance for employers.

The Citizens Advice is a charitable organisation that provides free advice for people with any problems and they also campaign for better policies that impact people’s everyday lives.

If they are not able to give direct advice they are usually great at sign-posting people to appropriate resources.

What I Specifically Learned From My Own Experience Of Unfair Treatment

Drawing from my own experience of unfair treatment at work here is my advice if you were to face a similar experience.

Get Support

In situations like this one it is always good to get support from an experienced representative. In my case I also had the option of having a friend to support me. However because it was a formal meeting it would not have been a good decision to take a friend with me. My rep was able to speak on my behalf during the meeting and that would not be the case if a friend attended to give moral support.

Keep A Written Log

Another important lesson is the need to keep a written log of the discussions taking place. I made a written request for information (about the proposed meeting) when my verbal request was declined. By writing the request I was creating a record of what was going on. It served to register my dissatisfaction with the managers response and also to formally register my insistence that my request be taken seriously.

Support Should Keep A Written Log Too

In fact, combining the first two learning points above… the person who gives support should also take accurate records or minutes of the discussions for future reference. My union rep did this and it helped support my own written complaint later.

Ask For Policies

Another lesson to learn from the experience is that policies are in place to guide managers and protect both the managers and the employee. They are a good reference source when situations like these occur. If you are new to your trust and not sure how to find any of the policies, your manager should provide you with a copy on request. However most NHS Trusts now have them on the intranet.

Don’t Be Afraid To Call Out Bad Practice

And finally it is important to challenge bad practice or bad behaviour no matter who the perpetrator may be.

Although senior managers may appear scary or above the rules, they are not and should be made to act in a fair way with everyone. This kind of behaviour can knock the employee’s confidence and also adversely affect patient care and must therefore be challenged (albeit respectfully).

Remember And Promote The 6 Cs Of Nursing

It takes all of the 6 Cs of nursing that was launched back in 2012 to challenge poor management in the NHS.

If all levels of staff took these 6 principles on board this topic (unfair treatment at work) would become obsolete.

● Care: We must care

● Commitment: committed to patients and to our profession

● Communication: challenging unfair treatment requires a high level of professionalism and respect must be maintained when communicating in these circumstances

● Compassion: nursing is about compassion for patients but in some circumstances self compassion will go a long way to preserve your self-confidence and wellbeing

● Competence: Competency levels and self-confidence may waver and decline in the face of bullying and other unfair work place experiences

● Courage: it is good to have the courage to say no to unfair treatment at work, especially if you are a nurse working in the NHS

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Do you have anything to say about unfair treatment at work?

Post questions & comments below

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About the author

  • Brenda Walcott
    Adult Nurse & Midwife

I work as a Midwife and an Adult Nurse. My current role is in a community hospital that specialises in rehabilitation of adult patients who have become dependent. My Adult Nursing career spans over 20 years to include Adult, Medical, Surgical Nursing. My special interests include women's health, diabetes, public health and Midwifery.

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  • Brenda Walcott
    Adult Nurse & Midwife

About the author

  • Brenda Walcott
    Adult Nurse & Midwife

I work as a Midwife and an Adult Nurse. My current role is in a community hospital that specialises in rehabilitation of adult patients who have become dependent. My Adult Nursing career spans over 20 years to include Adult, Medical, Surgical Nursing. My special interests include women's health, diabetes, public health and Midwifery.

  • 1 Comments
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    • Tessa Woodward 3 months ago
      Tessa Woodward
    • Tessa Woodward
      3 months ago

      For anyone out there not sure whether to whistle blow or not when faced with bullying or unfair behaviour, please ... read more

      • Thanks for your comment Tessa, It can make staff really unpopular to challenge poor behaviour by senior staff and also institutional discrimination. But as you have come to realise, it has knock on ef... read more

        Thanks for your comment Tessa, It can make staff really unpopular to challenge poor behaviour by senior staff and also institutional discrimination. But as you have come to realise, it has knock on effects(especially on patients' care)if left unchecked. Honesty is always the best policy, but sometimes it takes courage.
        read less

        Replied by: Brenda Walcott