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Risk of Racism in the Workplace

With emotions running high on both sides, an increase in racial abuse and hate crime has been reported since the UK voted to leave the EU. A recent report called “Race at Work” by Business in the Community revealed the presence of racial harassment and bullying remained present in numerous organisations. The current uncertainty and political climate in the UK makes it critical for employers to emphasise and encourage safe and respectful work environments for all workers regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

“Urgent call for employers to take action”

The above mentioned report (accessible here), described its findings as an “urgent call for employers to take action.” The report highlighted that despite perceptions of it being increasingly uncommon, racism remained very much alive in workplaces with;

  • 32% of all ethnic minority employees reporting that they have witnessed or experienced racist harassment or bullying from colleagues in the last 5 years;


  • 16% of ethnic minority employees reported directly experiencing racist bullying or harassment from clients.

Unfortunately a number the perpetrators of these incidents may not be aware of the impact their behaviour has on their colleagues. ‘Jokes’, ‘banter’ and pranks, in particular in terms of accent and the pronunciation of names, was cited as a common method of bullying and harassment within working environments. This was evident in a recent case, Day v Alloga UK Limited, where an employee’s ‘off the cuff’ and allegedly ‘harmless’ comment to a Polish colleague to ‘go back to your own country’ the day after the EU referendum constituted harassment.

Besides harassment by racist banter mentioned above, other examples given in the report of discrimination in the work places included;

  • ethnic minority workers being refused promotions and additional training opportunities in favour of their white counterparts,
  • racial and cultural stereotyping,
  • being subjected to excessive surveillance and scrutiny by colleagues, supervisors and managers,
  • customer’s refusing service from an ethnic minority,
  • employers refusing to accommodate or recognise faith practices or festivals,
  • physical violence, threats and verbal abuse

Potential Cost of Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers must be aware that they may be held liable for their employee’s alleged racist behaviour. The Equality Act 2010 expressly states that anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee acts are done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

A finding of racial discrimination can have huge consequences both financially and on the reputation of employers. In serious cases of discrimination, in addition to any financial compensation a Tribunal has the ability to make an award for injury to feelings of up to £33,000 to the victim.  A long serving police officer of Sikh origin who was passed over for promotion on racial grounds was awarded a total of £209,188 in compensation.

What should employers be doing?

It can be a defence for employers if an employee has been trained in equality and diversity, even if they have discriminated contrary to the training given. In the Day v Alloga case, in the company’s favour was the fact that there was a record of the Claimant having attended a recent training course on equality.

Both employers and employees need to be mindful and respectful towards cultural differences at work particularly in global organisations where individuals from a multitude of cultures may find themselves working alongside each other, having to understand and appreciate the nuances of language and behaviours.

Prejudice and stereotyping can be deep rooted and people may not be aware of bias at a subconscious level, but studies show that although unintentional, bias can have a strong effect on recruitment or interaction with staff. Again training can help by making management and decision makers aware of subconscious bias and question if this has influenced their decision. Removing names from CVs when recruiting, using a variety of tasks in the recruitment process rather than just interviews, multiple decision makers when recruiting or appraising staff and standardised processes can help overcome the risk of subconscious bias.

If you wish to learn more and get assistance about how to prevent discrimination in the workplace please get in touch with our employment discrimination lawyers on: 0118 958 5321.

The current uncertainty and political climate in the UK makes it critical for employers to emphasise and encourage safe and respectful work environments for all workers regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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