Who is protected from trade union victimisation?

All teachers and educational professionals are entitled to join a trade union. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 gives all members of the NEU specific protection at work from victimisation on grounds of their union membership or their participation in union activities. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your managers and governors are prohibited from victimising you or subjecting you to detriment. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from victimising you or subjecting you to detriment. You are protected from trade union victimisation whether or not the NEU is recognised by your employer for negotiating purposes.

What is trade union victimisation?

Trade union victimisation would include: subjecting you to detriment because you are a member of the NEU; you intend to join the NEU; you are taking part, or intend to take part, in NEU activities; or you intend to use NEU services in your own time or during time permitted by the employer.

Detrimental treatment because of your NEU membership or activities includes: refusing to appoint you; offering you less favourable terms and conditions or pay; denying you access to training or time off; limiting your opportunities for promotion or transfer; or dismissing you or threatening you.

When can I participate in NEU activities and use NEU services?

You may participate in any NEU activity or make use of any NEU service in your own time outside your working hours. You may do so in accordance with arrangements agreed between the NEU and your employer. Most employers recognise the NEU for the purposes of negotiating on workplace procedures. Contact the NEU if you are not sure whether the agreement allows you to participate in NEU activities during your working time.

Within these times, you are entitled to participate in NEU activities, for example, attending meetings, conferences, rallies or marches. You can also use NEU services such as receiving advice on your employment rights, being represented at grievance, discipline or dismissal hearings, and attending training or continuing professional development (CPD) courses.

What sort of treatment is covered?

Offering you a promoted post on the condition that you give up your membership of the NEU or stop being a representative would be unlawful. Selecting you or your NEU colleagues for redundancy on grounds that you are NEU members, or because you have participated in union activities, would be unfair dismissal.

Disciplining you as an NEU member for breaching a workplace ICT policy, but not disciplining other teachers who are not members of a trade union for the same breach of the policy, is likely to be trade union victimisation. Threatening you with dismissal, unless you withdrew an issue that was raised by the NEU on your behalf with your head teacher or principal, would be unlawful.

What sort of treatment is not covered?

Treatment, which the employer can show is wholly and genuinely for another reason that is nothing to do with the fact that you are an NEU member or participating in NEU activities, will not be victimisation.

Giving you a written warning for failure to comply with a school absence reporting procedure would not be trade union victimisation if all staff were treated consistently, irrespective of their union membership.

What should I do if I think that I have been victimised as an NEU member?

Gather all the written evidence that you have, for example, job adverts, letters, emails and relevant screenshots. Keep a diary of all incidents of less favourable treatment including dates, times, places, the names of any witnesses and your response to the treatment.

It is not always immediately clear whether certain treatment is on grounds of trade union activity or for some other genuine reason, so it is sensible to record all the treatment you are concerned about. An employer may or may not intend to victimise you or may try to cover up victimisation. The objective should be to find out the real reason for the treatment, to stop the treatment if it is unlawful and to secure appropriate action, for example, to obtain a full written apology or to secure a pay award that you have been denied.

Ask your NEU rep or school or college office for copies of relevant workplace policies, for example, pay policies, capability procedures, redundancy policies. Discuss your concerns with your NEU workplace rep. Your colleagues may have made similar complaints and you may be advised to tackle the issue with them collectively.

You or your rep might decide to contact the NEU for further advice. The union will be able to advise what steps you should take. You may be advised to lodge a formal grievance, or a collective grievance with your colleagues. This may resolve the issue. In rare cases you may be advised to take the matter to an employment tribunal. See NEU contact details at the end of this factsheet.

What should my employer or agency do if I complain about victimisation?

Your employer or agency should investigate your complaint, stop any victimisation, take appropriate action and prevent it from happening again to you or someone else.

What if the employer treats me worse after I have raised the issue?

You should contact your NEU rep if you are subjected to detrimental treatment in retaliation or as punishment for raising a complaint of victimisation. Your employer must not treat you less favourably for asserting your statutory rights such as lodging a grievance about trade union victimisation. Your employer will be liable for subjecting you to such retaliation or punishment.

What more can I do to protect myself and colleagues from victimisation at work?

The best strategy for protecting yourself from trade union victimisation at work is to act together with your fellow NEU members. Positive industrial relations between employers and union members often mean that employees are treated more fairly. Union involvement encourages the early resolution of disputes and avoids the costs associated with escalated disputes. Contact your NEU rep, division secretary or local equality officer if you want to work together to improve the relationship between NEU members and your employer.

You are not alone in this union

When you read through this document you may have questions about what happens in your particular school or workplace, and there may be collective issues that affect other members. In most circumstances, you should initially discuss the matter with your workplace rep, as they will know whether similar concerns have been raised by other members. If you do not have a rep at the moment, it would be a good idea to get members together to elect one. Further advice on this is available at: neu.org.uk/becoming-a-rep

Although you may sometimes feel that you are the only person affected by or concerned about a particular issue, in reality this is seldom the case. Any difficulties you may experience are likely to be linked to wider conditions at your workplace and as a member of the NEU you have the advantage of being able to act collectively with your colleagues. This should give you the confidence of knowing that you have the weight of the union behind you.

Further information

ACAS Code of Practice
on time off for trade union duties and activities