I don’t feel safe at work

  • You should feel safe at work
  • You shouldn’t be treated differently to other people at work
  • You shouldn’t be threatened or bullied to do work in the first place, or while you’re at work

Whether you’ve got a part time job at the weekend, you’ve left school and are in an apprenticeship or have started full time work, you should feel safe at work. You shouldn’t be asked to do things that are dangerous to you, and you shouldn’t have to put up with being badly treated by people you work with, or by customers/clients. As a child or young person under 18, your main rights are to do with receiving an education, growing and developing healthily, so this is the background to any work you do, whether it’s full time or part time.

‘Health & Safety’ is the name given to rules at work that are designed to protect workers from (mostly physical) risks. The rules mean that the person you are working for should have looked at the job you are doing, worked out if there are any risks, and made sure you are protected from those risks. This could include wearing protective clothing, making sure you have the right training to do a particular job, making sure you are properly supervised, or that you work with other people. It will be different for every role.

Even work in an office, which might seem very ‘safe’, is covered by health and safety rules to make sure you have a safe place to work. Things like the equipment you use, the cleanliness of where you work, and things like fire safety would all be covered by this.

If you don’t feel safe at work because of this kind of risk, your work should have a system for reporting it. This could be to your manager or to HR – every organisation will be different, so you need to check what your employer has in place. If you report a problem and nothing is done, you might want to consider talking to someone more senior in the organisation, or discussing it with the Health and Safety Executive who are responsible for Health and Safety at work. If you have an accident at work, you should be able to make a note of it in an accident book.

Discrimination is treating someone differently – and unfairly - because of a particular characteristic. This could include your gender, because of your race or your religion, the language you speak, a disability that you might live with, if you are pregnant or taking time off to look after a child. If you are treated unfairly because of your age, this can also be unlawful discrimination.

Discrimination at work can happen in lots of ways. It can be ‘direct’ discrimination – which is when you are treated differently directly because of a particular characteristic e.g. a man and a woman apply for the same job but the man is given the job because he is a man – and not because he was the best person for the job. Discrimination can also be ‘indirect’ – when something that applies to everyone has a bigger impact on a particular group of people who share the same characteristic. e.g a rule at work that says that no one can wear any kind of hat or head covering at work will be more difficult for people belonging to religions which require its followers to wear something on their head.

You might find you are treated differently because you are young. This is just as wrong as treating someone unfairly because of their gender or their race.

If you are being treated differently and unfairly at work for some reason, you can ultimately go to the Employment Tribunal to resolve the problem. Before you go to the Employment Tribunal, you need to try and sort things out at work. The business or organisation you work for should have a grievance procedure to help you sort things out. If this doesn’t work, and you need to consider legal action, you will need a ‘litigation friend’ to help you if you are under 18.

Remember that there is usually a 3 month time limit to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

Harassment is when someone behaves towards you in a way that puts you down and you find unacceptable. It could happen in lots of ways, and could be related to something like your race or your gender. It can also be a one off incident or something that keeps happening. Bullying, which is threatening or aggressive behaviour towards you by someone with more power than you (or you think has more power than you), is sometimes included as a kind of harassment.

Bullying and/or harassment can also be a health and safety issue if it makes you feel unsafe at work and causes you to suffer from stress, or if someone is physically hurting you.

You might be reluctant to complain about something that’s happening to you at work. You might be working for a very small organisation, or the person who you want to complain about is more senior to you – and might even be the person you’re supposed to approach with problems. This might make it all feel very difficult, but there are people who can help you. You could speak to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, ACAS or to the Health and Safety Executive for advice and support.