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‘I should be learning – but instead I get menial jobs’

The Question:

I am a junior account executive at a small agency, where I've worked for a few months. I feel I'm being discriminated against in my job. I should be getting training and opportunities, but instead I am given menial jobs. When I complained my boss was arrogant and sarcastic. I am a foreigner but this has never been a problem with other things I have done. I obviously can't complain to my boss. Nor do I want to be jobless. What can I do?


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Ben Williams, employment barrister, Kings Chambers in London

Clearly the behaviour of your boss is entirely unacceptable in any workplace, let alone one in which he is supposed to set an example. Although the reality is that many employers have their favourites, it is unlawful to treat people differently on the grounds of any characteristics which are protected under the law. These include sex, race and age. In your case, the fact that you are treated differently because of your foreign nationality could be considered to be illegal race discrimination.

In addition, the behaviour you describe might even be considered harassment. Since it is coming directly from the head of the company it is understandable that you are concerned about whether your complaint will be taken seriously. That shouldn't discourage you from lodging a formal grievance.

However, it would need to be dealt with by someone other than your boss. Even if it doesn't lead to disciplinary action, it could bring to an end the poor treatment.

From an optimistic point of view, a formal complaint should make your boss realize the error of his ways and leave you to flourish in your role. The pessimists among us would no doubt say this could create further problems for you around the office.

Given your limited time with the company some might say that you are risking instant dismissal. Plainly, what you cannot do is allow this bullying to continue and you might consider that this organization is simply not worthy of your talents. Ever the optimist, I would recommend that you follow the route of raising a formal grievance.

If this results in further bullying, or your dismissal, you could find yourself on the winning side of an employment claim for discrimination, despite the fact that you have been there only a few months.

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Lindsey Bell, employment partner at Clarke Willmott LLP

On the face of it, you might have a claim for direct race discrimination. However, tackling this issue in a small company is likely to make waves, so bear that in mind.

To start with you should make notes, including the time and date, whenever things are done or said to you. This will be helpful if you do decide to make a formal complaint or seek compensation through the courts. If this intolerable behaviour persists you should raise it in a formal grievance to the person above your boss. Most organizations have a formal grievance procedure in place which will explain the process. If your tormentor is at the top of the tree, this obviously becomes more difficult.

Taking the step of raising a formal grievance is important should you decide to make a claim for race discrimination further down the line – because if you don't, any award that you might receive could be reduced.

Although it is possible to take legal action against your company while you are still employed, it does make your day-to-day work difficult.

I'm sorry that I can't offer you an easy answer that will not "rock the boat." Discrimination legislation is complicated and I would therefore strongly advise that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

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